The man who built Belmont: Two decades of campus growth under retiring President Bob Fisher
After more than 20 years as university president, Dr. Bob Fisher will take the stage one more time April 22 to usher out his last graduating class of Belmont Bruins.
Fisher, who announced his retirement in November, will leave behind a campus that he propelled from a dot on the map to a landmark in Nashville. After May, the reins will officially pass to incoming President Dr. L. Gregory Jones.
Jones will have big shoes to fill given Fisher’s many milestone achievements over the last two decades, including the growth of Belmont’s student enrollment from 2,900 to over 8,000, the addition of over $1 billion in on-campus construction, renovations and acquisitions as well as two nationally televised presidential debates hosted on campus during Fisher’s tenure.
“I think he’s had an extraordinary legacy. His footprint has been significant,” said Dr. Mary Clark, director of Bridges to Belmont and the Office of Multicultural Learning and Experience. “The growth of the institution, not just building-wise, but in size and community impact has just been unprecedented. We wish him the best.”
Since his appointment in April 2000, Fisher has done much to leave his mark on the Belmont community.
Under his leadership, not only has total student enrollment increased almost threefold, but the university has added new academic programs to its offerings, including the College of Law in 2011 as well as the recently announced College of Medicine.
Fisher has also overseen two major university acquisitions, growing Belmont’s fine arts programming significantly. In 2018, Belmont merged with the O’Moore College of Architecture and Design, followed by a merger with Watkins College of Art in 2020.
Fisher has also had an extensive influence on student life at Belmont, overseeing the construction of 11 residence halls and millions of dollars in academic buildings and dining facilities. Belmont’s notoriously beautiful campus has risen up around Fisher’s leadership, and since 2000, the university has seen the addition of:
— Phase II of Hillside Apartments in 2002.
— Beaman Student Life Center, Curb Event Center and Maddox Grand Atrium in 2003.
— Kennedy Hall in 2003.
— Gordon E. Inman College of Health Sciences and Nursing in 2006.
— Thrailkill Hall in 2006.
— Troutt Theater in 2007.
— Potter Hall in 2008.
— Patton Hall and Bear House in 2010.
— McWhorter Hall in 2010.
— McAfee Concert Hall renovated in 2012.
— Dickens Hall in 2012.
— Randall and Sadie Baskin Center in 2012.
— Horrell Hall in 2013.
— Janet Ayers Academic Center in 2014.
— Russell Hall in 2014.
— R. Milton and Denise Johnson Center and Harrington Place Dining in 2015.
— Tall Hall in 2018.
The latest and final expansion projects under Fisher are the construction of a performing arts center on Belmont Boulevard and a new athletic training complex, both scheduled to be completed in fall 2021. A new residence hall, currently under construction on Caldwell Avenue, is set to open fall 2022.
Not only has Fisher grown the size and strength of Belmont’s presence in Nashville, but it is under his leadership that Belmont has become recognized on the national stage.
Belmont’s Curb Event Center hosted the 2008 presidential debate between former President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain. Most recently, the university hosted the final debate between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden. These are the only general election debates to be held in Tennessee.
Fisher has also expanded the university’s philanthropic efforts, for instance, partnering with Belmont alumnus Brad Paisley and his wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, on opening The Store, a nonprofit food pantry that provides groceries for low-income families.
Fisher’s wife, Judy, has also done her part to put Belmont in the spotlight. With her hand in the campus gardens and the colorful spring displays currently in full bloom, Judy Fisher’s work has helped propel Belmont onto many a list of America’s most beautiful colleges.
But the university is more than just a beautiful campus. Under Bob Fisher, Belmont’s ratings for academic excellence, innovation and undergraduate teaching have been nationally recognized.
“I think Dr. Fisher’s dedication throughout his years at Belmont will be remembered as a true and remarkable example of how not to be complacent and always strive for greatness,” said Carlos McDay, a graduating senior and this year’s Heart of Belmont student leader honoree.
Fisher’s dedication to the university has always been clear, but never more so than in his last year as he guided Belmont through the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. As his tenure as Belmont’s president comes to an end, Fisher leaves behind a campus that is on the right track in its recovery from the pandemic.
Come June 1, that responsibility will fall to incoming President Jones, whose most recent post was as dean of Duke Divinity School. Jones was selected from a number of candidates by Belmont’s board of trustees in February.
Jones’ leadership will be the start of a new era at Belmont, and though Fisher is saying goodbye, his impact on the university is seen daily as students eat dinner in the cafeteria or study in the JAAC.
And those students are a big part of Fisher’s legacy at Belmont, he said.
“What has been accomplished by our leadership team, our staff, our faculty and especially our students has exceeded anything we could have imagined. My overwhelming response to all that’s been accomplished is a deep sense of gratitude,” Fisher said when announcing his retirement in November.
“Without a doubt, my wife Judy and I have been so blessed to be a part of Belmont — we are Bruins for life.”
This article was written by Sarah Maninger and Anna Jackson. Photos courtesy of Belmont University.