University: Who We Have Become

“University fits Belhaven just right, as they have grown so dramatically– becoming an important, influential center of academic quality and educational innovation. They are a Mississippi treasure that is reaching our state and the world, and I’m especially proud of how they have masterfully blended academic rigor with Christian values based teaching.”—Governor Haley Barbour, State of Mississippi

Scratched pencil lines and scribbled dates crawl up the door frame as a memorial to the fleeting nature of childhood. It doesn’t seem like much when marking down each little half inch or inch, but before long the inches tower into feet and the impossible has happened yet again: a child grows up! Just as parents inscribe their children’s inches on an unassuming door frame, Belhaven etches her growth in a century of markers that remind us of where the college has been and where it is headed. Belhaven College reached just such a milestone on January 1, 2010, when it officially became Belhaven University. Though it brings with it a host of outward changes, “The name change does not change who we are or shift our mission, focus, or priorities,” President Dr. Roger Parrott aptly noted in his remarks to students, faculty, and staff. “Rather, the change of our name to

University more accurately describes who we have become.”
Over the past century, Belhaven has grown from its humble beginnings as a ladies finishing school on Boyd Street to an internationally respected Christian university. In a letter to alumni and friends Dr. Roger Parrott says the name change marks the “next natural progression in our 127 year history. As I look back, this will be the tenth significant step in the development of the school.” These 10 mile markers include:

1. Founded as a finishing school: Belhaven College
for Young Ladies
2. Became a Presbyterian college
3. Moved to the current location
4. Admitted men and added athletics
5. Became purposeful about ethnic diversity
6. Added graduate programs and our
Worldview curriculum
7. Established multiple campuses
8. Developed nationally recognized Arts programs
and started football
9. Launched online degrees and
international partnerships
10. Renamed Belhaven University

Why University?

As Belhaven has expanded, both in academic offerings and international partnerships, the Board of Trustees began to see a need for the Belhaven name to match its growth. The Board’s decision was not taken lightly, and it was preceded by an extensive study of the issues related to a name change, coupled with enthusiastic feedback from the majority of over 1,000 alumni, students, and faculty/staff who participated in an online survey. The information gathered from the survey, in addition to comments and questions from individuals, proved to be invaluable as the Board of Trustees made their final decision. Some of the important reasons cited to make the change include the ways that Belhaven has grown:

• Enrolls 3,000 students on four physical campuses in Jackson, Memphis, Houston, and Orlando, as well as an online campus
• Received the largest enrollment growth percentage of any private college in Fall 2009, at 15.4%
• Enrolls 500 graduate students in eight master programs
• Welcomes students from 44 states and 20 countries
• Is recognized as a leader in the arts, as one of only 30 schools in the U.S. nationally accredited in all four of the arts—music, theatre, visual arts, and dance
• Is the only Christian university in the U.S. offering a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing
• Has been named to America’s 100 Best College Buys for 10 consecutive years, named in the Templeton Guide: Colleges that Encourage Character Development, and selected as a top Christian business college by Business Reform Magazine
• Offers 27 major areas of study, with a student/faculty ratio of 12:1
• Is structured around four schools: Business, Education, Arts and Sciences, and Fine Arts
• Is a leader in the scholarship of Christian worldview curriculum

Virginia Gillespie Brock (’50), daughter of legendary Belhaven President Guy T. Gillespie, says she has known the name of Belhaven since she has been able to talk. She notes that “it might be hard for graduates like myself to remember to call it Belhaven University, but I hope people welcome the name change. It’s going to be more important as the years go by to have this level of distinction.” Dr. Newton Wilson (’63) also has a long history with Belhaven–as a former student, faculty member, department chair, dean, and president–and now as board member. He says of the name change, “The Belhaven name has long been synonymous with a quality, Christ-centered education, and as the college has continued to lead the way in the arts and worldview thinking, I believe the name university is only fitting.”

Kelley Owens, parent of 2 alumni and 1 current student, agrees that the name change is fitting. She remarks, “I think it adds credibility to the institution itself. Few people think small colleges excel in education. Belhaven challenges its students academically and the culture needs to know this.”
Future students have also been interested in the name change. Kathryn Grace Lee, an incoming Arts Administration major from Birmingham, Alabama, says she watched the name change celebration online at home, and when she drove to campus “…the first thing I noticed was that the signs were changed on the interstate…It made me feel that this school that I was already excited about attending was doing something big to make itself even better.”

Associate Professor of Business with tenure Dr. Kristena Payne Gaylor believes that the change is important for the school’s future endeavors. She says, “I believe the change will provide a foundation for us to grow and expand our program offerings. We are already experiencing the growth with the increase in online education offerings as well as the expansion of our adult campuses in Tennessee and Georgia.”

Alumnus Dan Marks (’98), Chief Marketing Officer at First Tennessee in Memphis, also thinks that this change will benefit Belhaven in the future. This Accounting/Philosophy graduate states, “God has blessed Belhaven with leadership that is discerning and focused on taking a bold stand for a Biblical worldview in a Christ-centered loving way. I am excited to see Belhaven University continue to equip young people to excel in their professional lives, think critically with the Christian worldview, and love their community. It will continue to be used mightily in the
years ahead.”

Jeremy Couch, Director of Admission for the Orlando campus, has heard positive feedback from the students he has spoken to about the name change. He says, “I believe it will help our recruiting efforts because it gives us an opportunity to tell the Belhaven story and how this institution has evolved since its founding in 1883 to become what it is today—a leader in Christian higher education.” Brett Merrill, a Management major on the Orlando campus, is one of those students. Merrill states, “I feel more confident having my degree from a university because it is more reputable and prestigious. The name change was very positive, and I am pleased that Belhaven made the decision to become a university.”

The name change is especially beneficial from an international perspective. Student Kookie Kim, from Seoul, Korea, is pursuing her Master of Public Administration at Belhaven. She says, “Many international students think that a University is a 4-year school, bigger than a college, and harder to get into.”

Head Men’s Soccer Coach Steve DeCou echoes Kim. The clarity that the name change brings to recruiting internationally has allowed his staff to concentrate on what matters. He says, “The positive thing is…we don’t have to explain that we are in fact a university. For example, in England college is the equivalent of high school. The name change has removed any questions potential student-athletes may have and allows us to talk more about who we are than what we are not.”

The University name change has affected more than the students, alumni, faculty, and staff, however. The greater Jackson community has also been impacted by Belhaven’s status as University. Marilyn H. Tinnin, Editor and Publisher of Metro Christian Living magazine, says that the name change speaks volumes about where the school is headed. She notes, “I see Belhaven University as a sort of “jewel” in Jackson’s crown…Ultimately the community is enriched in every way by their contributions at every level – from our churches to our businesses to the arts and everywhere else. The willingness to move forward and make a name change to a revered traditional school says a lot about the forward thinking individuals who are making such decisions. It reveals a real commitment to leadership and to change when change is needed. Belhaven in 2010 is not standing still, and the new name reflects that fact.”

Going forward

As Belhaven University moves forward, Bettye Quinn (’58), Associate Professor of Education who begins her 45th year at Belhaven this fall, reminds us all that the heart of the college has not changed. She says, “In my prayer at the December graduation–the last as Belhaven College, I prayed that U would not only stand for university but that it would stand for united–as alumni and students work together for the advancement of the school and its programs– and useful–as all will be used to advance Christ’s kingdom.”
As the University prepares for another century of growth in advancing God’s kingdom, Dr. Roger Parrott reminds us of the longstanding vision of Belhaven, made possible by the legacy of many:

“I’m thankful for those who have gone before us to create such a wonderful place for students to prepare for the Lord’s best in their lives and to become grounded in our motto: To Serve, Not To Be Served.

With this name change, I pledge to you our commitment to stay the course that God has laid out for us. Nothing will change our faithfulness to Christ and to quality education.
We are called to graduate students well prepared for success in the marketplace, with lives built on a Christ-centered worldview. We close our chapel each week by praying in unison that great scripture from 1 Corinthians 2:9, because it is applicable to every chapel topic. And as I made this announcement, our prayer was:

No eye has seen,
No ear has heard,
No mind has conceived,
What God has prepared for Belhaven University.”

One thought on “University: Who We Have Become

  1. Young people hold the future of the nation- Belhaven is a place where they willl have numerous possibilities to enrich their potential, to become repsonisible member of the society, contributing with ideas to the socail life.

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