Updated: 5 days ago
Dr. L. Gregory Jones may be a few months out from fully assuming his role as Belmont’s new president, but he’s connecting and planning with the community already — a community he’s watched grow for decades.
“When you walk on a campus … you can feel a vibe,” Jones said. “You can sense whether there’s tension and dysfunction, or whether there’s a spirit of welcoming embrace.”
Jones said he and his wife, the Rev. Susan Jones, have felt that spirit at Belmont for as long as they’ve known the school, which for Gregory goes as far back as 20 years, when his parents lived across the street from the university.
Having watched the school grow for so long, Jones has no plans to stop that positive trend, he said — but he’d like to maintain it on the community’s terms.
“I’d say my biggest plan is to listen and learn,” Jones said. “One of the things that I think is really important about coming into an existing University is to learn what the hopes are, what’s going well, where the needs are and where the challenges are.”
One facet of Belmont’s community Jones said he wants to cultivate is the school’s diversity and standards for inclusion.
“I think there’s a lot of work we need to do on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Jones said. “I also want to be supportive to the LGBT students and make sure they feel included fully in the school.”
Having already met with the Black Students Association and Welcome Home Diversity Council, Jones said he wants to make clear his focus on developing a welcoming community — and how he can involve that focus in learning.
“One of the things that the last year has highlighted is that racial inequities have also been related to health inequities and economic inequities,” Jones said. “We need to figure out how we can address those on the ground.”
That ties into the first major development the new president will oversee: the launch of Belmont’s medical school.
Jones said while the school is a result of current university President Dr. Bob Fisher’s vision, he wants to play a role in emphasizing a Christ-centered approach.
“I think infusing a medical school with that underlying vision of what it means to care for people and to form physicians to be holistic caregivers … is really needed,” he said.
That Christ-centered approach is something Jones said he wants to encourage throughout Belmont.
“The sense of being Christ-centered is to really say that, it means we’re called to something beyond ourselves,” he explained. “And much of higher education is struggling today, because it doesn’t really have a clear sense of purpose.”
And though the new medical school is one of many projects Jones will carry out following Fisher’s departure, Fisher will still see involvement as university chancellor, a position last held by the late Dr. Herbert C. Gabhart.
Though Jones will still have the final say in matters regarding the university, he and Fisher share a vision of making Belmont “Nashville’s university,” he said.
“If a university is not seen as an asset … in the broader community, then then there’s a problem,” Jones said.
For students like exercise science major Jade Ryan Hollister, the leadership transition is an exciting one.
“I’m actually very excited about Dr. L. Gregory Jones joining the Belmont community,” Hollister said.
“Seeing how highly Dr. Fisher has spoken of him, I have complete trust that this decision in hiring Dr. Jones was well-thought out with great intentions.”
That anticipation is paired with vigilance for other students though, who are waiting to see his words backed up by actions.
“I would like for him to address the diversity issue,” said junior social work major Laura Balan. “You know, he’s another old white man coming in to fill the shoes of an old white man.”
Balan said she’s optimistic about the potential having a new president represents — but is concerned about religious conservatism coloring Jones’ intentions.
“I’m concerned he might draw us in a more religious direction, which I wouldn’t want,” Balan said. “We’re different from Lipscomb, we’re different from Liberty because we’re … diverse in regards to our religious population.”
But Jones said he and Susan are excited to work toward a more accepting environment at Belmont — and become personally engaged with the student community while they’re at it.
“Just think of us as Pop-Pop and Mum-Mum,” Jones said. “I really hope students will feel invested in Belmont as a lifelong investment, where their degree continues to appreciate in value long into the future.”