Students at Watkins College in Nashville express concerns over merge with Belmont University


NASHVILLE – Tenn. (WKRN) — This week, Watkins College, a four-year art and design school announced its Fall 2020 merge with Christian institution, Belmont University.

Students at the College expressed concerns to News 2 after a town hall meeting where details of the merge were discussed.

In a video of the town hall obtained by News 2, Belmont University Provost, Thomas Burns, is asked about the future of Watkins faculty who aren’t Christian.

Burns can be heard replying, “So we do not hire people who are not Christian. So the ones who are not Christian would not be able to work with Belmont.”

Later in the video Provost Burns said, “All of our faculty and staff are indeed Christian, but I don’t want you to see that as a worldview that is somehow bigoted or unaccepting.”

A spokesperson for Watkins College said details of severance pay, haven’t been decided. The college did send this statement explaining why the merge was decided upon:

“We have known for some time that critical changes needed to take place for Watkins’s mission and legacy to endure. While we are unable to disclose specific financial information, our lack of an endowment and low enrollment numbers meant the future of Watkins was unstable and unsustainable. Our first obligation is to be stewards of the college’s future and, in that capacity, we resolved that without some affirmative action in the very near future, Watkins would suffer the fate that has forced many other small, specialized colleges to close their doors in recent years. Our board had a fiduciary responsibility to explore every option to keep our doors open, and determined that pursuing a partnership with an established university that shares a commitment to the arts and unmatched arts education would be the best possible outcome to protect and sustain Watkins’s legacy. Fortunately, Belmont leadership was receptive to our inquiries, recognizing the vast creativity and diversity that Watkins students offer to the community. Watkins has more in common with Belmont than differences. With this merger, our creative culture and legacy will live on at the Watkins School of Art at Belmont.”

News 2 reached out to Belmont University about their hiring policy and was referred back to a Tuesday interview where the University’s President said this about future employment.

“Those are things though that will get worked out in the next several weeks, and decided.”

Belmont has committed to honor Watkins College tuition rate, course credits and financial aid packages.

In the town hall video Provost Burns also said, “We [Belmont University] want to help you be as successful as you can be, as quickly as you can be, and keep you on track to graduate.”

Amari Harris, a fine arts major and junior at Watkins College, said, “It upsets me that they came to this option, that this would be the best choice.”

Harris said she attended Belmont University for two years before transferring to Watkins College. She added that she doesn’t plan on returning to Belmont after the merge.

Students have created a petition to express their concerns about the merge and have also scheduled an exhibition titled, “IN GOOD FAITH: HOW NOT TO SAVE AN ART SCHOOL” that will be held on February 1 from 6-9 p.m. in a rental truck adjacent to the Packing Plant at 507 Hagan Street.

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