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Students at Watkins College of Art concerned about merger with Belmont

Posted at 7:50 PM, Jan 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 23:36:44-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — Shocked and concerned - that's how some students at Watkins College of Art in Nashville are responding to news the school will merge with Belmont University.

On Tuesday, school officials announced the Watkins College of Art will move to the Belmont campus and be known as the Watkins College of Art at Belmont University.

The school which opened in 1885, has faced declining enrollment and financial struggles in recent years. Officials from both schools said by bringing two historic Nashville institutions together, both schools will benefit. The boards of both schools voted unanimously in support of the merger.

“It’s great that the board at Belmont and Dr. Fisher have provided an opportunity to perpetuate the legacy of Watkins,” said J. Kline, President of Watkins College of Art.

However, some students at Watkins said they were blindsided by the announcement, and would have tried to stop the deal from going through.

“I was very upset,” said Lyv Kenney, a senior at Watkins. “The school means a lot to me and so does the community. Everyone is heartbroken about this entire thing.”

Some of students’ biggest concerns centered around how their school's culture could change under the umbrella of a Christian university. Some said they appreciate a small, close-knit school, with small classes.

In response to the decision, the student body complied a list of demands that included the removal of President Kline, assistance to existing faculty, and acceptance of all LGBTQ students.

They discussed their concerns during a town hall meeting Tuesday with Belmont Provost Thomas Burns.

“That’s terrifying that we are going to be possibly teaching art through a lens of censorship,” said Josh Wynters, a senior at Watkins.

“We would like for the president of Belmont to make a public statement in support of LGBT rights and we will be protected as we move into their school,” said Dakota Stratton, a sophomore at Watkins.

Students also expressed concerns faculty who are not Christian will not be retained at Belmont.

During the formal announcement of the merger, Belmont President Dr. Robert Fisher said some details of the arrangement are still being finalized. However, Belmont has a deep respect for Watkins.

“I want to assure the Watkins community we will do our best to make you feel at home at Belmont,” said Dr. Fisher.

Some students are still skeptical. They are planning to host an art exhibition dedicated to the situation called “In Good Faith: How Not to Save an Art School.” It will be Sat. Feb. 1. From 6-9 p.m. next to the packing plant at 507 Hagan Street.

Dr. Fisher said the merger will officially go through in May, and classes will begin for the Fall Semester of 2020.