View the latest fact sheet here: Watkins Q&A updated March 9, 2020

Originally distributed at QUAKE, an exhibition and conversation in response to the Watkins/Belmont Takeover March 7, 2020

  • Watkins College of Art has a long history in Nashville. It was established in 1885 as Watkins Institute. Over the years, Watkins has educated hundreds of thousands of people in Nashville. Since the 1990s, it has been a college for art and film.

  • Its founder, Samuel Watkins, was an orphan who became a highly successful businessman and beloved philanthropist. He donated large sums to support charities that helped the poor and vulnerable.


  • After years of mismanaging the school, the President of Watkins College of Art announced at the end of January that the school would be absorbed by Belmont University. He referred to this as a merger.


  • The Board of Trustees at Watkins pursued this merger after inquiring at Lipscomb, Vanderbilt, and Belmont. No other institutions (MTSU, TSU, Fisk, etc.) were approached.


  • The leadership made completely inadequate efforts to raise funds or reverse downturns in the college’s fortunes. When enrollment was low, the board of trustees allowed the President to hire his girlfriend (now his wife) over applicants with actual qualifications for the job, and they did so over the recommendations of the hiring committee.


  • After a disastrous roll-out, the President of Watkins simply stopped coming to work. After two weeks and votes of no confidence from the students, faculty, and staff, the Board of Trustees at Watkins placed him on “administrative leave” (meaning he’s being paid by a financially-strapped college to stay home).


  • Belmont will sell off the Watkins campus (probably to developers) for $20 million (or more) and use that money to establish an endowment for their students. In exchange, Belmont has agreed to call its art school Watkins for 25 years (unless their board votes otherwise). Watkins has given Belmont more than $20 million and sold out its faculty, staff, and students in exchange for a temporary lease on a sign adorning one of Belmont’s building.


  • Before selling off the campus, representatives of Belmont will help themselves to Watkins’ equipment and dismiss most of its faculty and staff. They have offered a handful of jobs to faculty members in administrative positions. Belmont will offer all others a small severance and show them the door.


  • Belmont is a conservative, Christian university. Students are required to take religious classes and attend Christian religious events. Belmont does not hire non-Christians (though representatives claim they’ll make exceptions in the case of Watkins faculty). Belmont opposes contraceptives, and it has a record of discrimination against LGBTQ people (look up the case of Lisa Howe). It also has a long history of censoring students and faculty (while referring to “family values” to justify it).


  • Last week, the President Robert Fisher of Belmont met with a student representative for Save Watkins. During this meeting, fisher refused to make a statement in support of LGBTQ rights.


  • Belmont has made no commitment to the artistic freedom or freedom of speech of its students.


  • The Board of Trustees at Watkins has given the campaign to save the school permission to raise money to keep the college independent, but it has given us a matter of weeks to do so. We also understand that they have made efforts to accelerate the deal as our efforts move forward. The Watkins board is hampering our efforts to do a job that they should have been doing all along.


  • Save Watkins demands that boards of Belmont and Watkins pause this deal to allow fundraising to move forward.


  • We demand that if this deal must go forward that The Watkins curriculum along with its faculty and staff be preserved.


  • We demand that Belmont president commit to the free speech of his students and that he make a statement in support of LGBTQ rights.