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Provost Dr. Thomas Burns talks BELL Core proposal

Proposed changes to the BELL Core have had students and faculty worried about the outcome since the changes were first brought up in February.

In reality, this conversation has been going on for around two years.

The Vision sat down with Provost Dr. Thomas Burns to clear up any misunderstandings about the Provost Council’s proposal.

“I think if people could hear me say that this is not about money, this is not about faculty positions, it’s not trying to cut or change budgets — what we’re really trying to do is engage in a conversation about what experiences, what knowledges, what skills do we want the Belmont student to have so they can achieve our mission and be successful after they leave?” Burns said. “That’s where I want the focus to be.”

As it currently stands, the BELL Core requires around 60 credits of general education compared the minimum of 30 general education hours required by Belmont’s accrediting agency. This proposal lowers the amount of required general education students have to take to around 40 hours, Burns said.

“My proposal is to increase the amount of flexibility for students — to reduce the number of required courses within the core, make it easier for students to move between majors or even double-major or have multiple minors rather than tying them into specific disciplinary areas with required courses,” Burns said.

The degrees the new proposal will have the biggest impact on are the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Business Administration degrees. The proposal reduces the amount of humanities and social sciences courses required, Burns said.

The total amount of hours required will not change — students will just have more freedom to do what they want, he said.

“I think it increases the opportunity for students to explore something they’re interested in,” Burns said. “My choice is I’d rather give students as much choice and flexibility that you can have rather than saying you have to take three social science courses, only two of which that can cover the same prefix.”

The proposal also clears up some inconsistencies the current BELL Core has developed. In this new proposal, changing majors is more simple — which, in turn, makes advising easier on both the adviser and the student.

“What I hear from students and parents is that the current BELL Core is confusing,” Burns said. “When you change your major, it’s not as if everything that you did before now counts in the new one. People felt like we were changing the game on them, which I think was a legitimate concern.”

Another unintended consequence of the current BELL Core is the difficulties included in double-majoring across degree types, Burns said. Instead of simply having two majors, it’s more akin to having two degrees and having to do the BELL Core for both.

“Most places, if you’ve completed the core, to have a double-major in a B.B.A. and a B.S. isn’t a big issue because you’ve already completed the core,” Burns said. “In our model, it’s really confusing, and so the idea that you earn two degrees seems odd to me.”

Staple classes of the current BELL Core — like First Year Seminar, Third Year Writing and the two religion courses — are still part of the core underneath both the Provost Council’s proposal and the proposal created by the Faculty Senate’s BELL Core Committee.

Both proposals also agree about including requirements for a humanities, a social science, a science, a wellness and a fine arts course no matter the major.

“Where we differ is, if you’re doing a B.A., what do you have to take in addition?” Burns said.

On Monday, the Faculty Senate and the BELL Core Committee are having a joint meeting to discuss the current BELL Core and both proposals, Burns said. The outcome of the meeting is, hopefully, a Faculty Senate recommendation about which proposal, if any, it would ask for people to consider, said Burns.

“It’s probably going to be a relatively long meeting,” Burns said. “I’ve offered to buy them dinner so they have time to talk.”

After the recommendation, it’s possible the senate would call for a faculty referendum — the opportunity for every faculty member to vote on the recommended proposal.

“I’m encouraging that they do that, because this is kind of an important decision in the life of the university,” Burns said. “In theory, on April 3 they would make a decision about what the Faculty Senate wanted to vote on. I hope that they would then vote to have a faculty referendum on that particular proposal, and that would take place during the month of April.”

The hope is to have a decision about BELL Core made by the end of the year, Burns said.

“The bigger challenge is, if the decision is made, when does it get implemented?” Burns said. “It’s not going to be we’re going to make a decision in April and then, in the fall, ‘here’s the new curriculum, go.’ It’s probably going to be the earliest that the curriculum can be put into place would be fall of 2018.”

What does that mean for current students? They have options — either stick with their current curriculum or adopt the new one as it comes.

“I think we’d have to work over the course of the next year to make sure students were informed, and so anybody who’s a current student would have a chance to consider both of the options, talk to their adviser and make a decision about whether they wanted to go with the new BELL Core or if they wanted to stick with the one they came in under,” Burns said.

Photo courtesy of Belmont University

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