Watkins College of Art will soon be a school within Belmont University, following a merger announced by the presidents of both schools at a press conference Tuesday.
The deal will mean the end of Watkins as a standalone institution. The school was founded in 1885 in Nashville and offers bachelor’s degrees in film, fine art, graphic design, illustration, interior design, photography and art, as well as two graduate programs: in film and in visual arts.
“For well over a century, Watkins has fostered the talents and honed the crafts of thousands of phenomenal artists,” Belmont president Bob Fisher said in a statement. “Partnering this legacy with Belmont’s thriving creative community in the arts, music, film and design represents a natural fit and brings incredible synergy to benefit all students.”
Watkins’ programs will be integrated into Belmont’s campus over the summer, and Watkins’ students can begin classes at Belmont starting in August. The deal has been approved unanimously by the school’s board of trustees.
“Belmont’s reputation as a growing world-class institution is extraordinary, and we are delighted to be able to add Watkins’ renowned arts programs to significantly broaden academic and career opportunities for our shared student bodies,” Watkins president J. Kline said.
But the move has spurred dissatisfaction at Watkins’ campus. A petition that began circulating following the news of the merger says, in part:
We, the students of Watkins College of Art, hereby petition for a faculty vote of no confidence into the investigation of President Dr. J Kline.
Vote of No Confidence: ‘A formal vote by which the members of a legislature or similar deliberative body indicate that they no longer support a leader, government, etc.’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Vote of No Confidence).
For the following reasons:
- Providing false information regarding the withdrawal period to the entire student body via email:
- ‘However, to assuage any concerns, we will extend the withdrawal period through the next several weeks.’ – President Dr. J Kline
- No plan of action was provided to students on how this would be accomplished
- As per Spring 2020 calendar, January 27, 2020, is the last day to withdraw from class with 100% of funds returned
- By withholding this information, this prevents the students from making informed decisions regarding their academic future
- This also falsely assuages students from perusing protective actions regarding their finances, which is in their right to do so
- A lack of transparency regarding the financial and academic future of Watkins College of Art to prospective and graduating students and faculty and staff alike
- Setting false expectations for what Watkins is versus what it will be/become
Lucas Hames, one of the students behind the petition, is a senior graduating from the film program in May, so the merger doesn’t directly affect him. But he says he’s disappointed that Watkins didn’t publicize its financial troubles sooner.
“I feel like more could’ve been done with the Nashville community,” Hames tells WPLN News. “Nashville’s an incredibly booming, prosperous city right now. I feel that those institutions are in place and those people are in place to at least ask for help, and like I don’t think – I do not think this had to happen.”
The deal comes less than after Belmont acquired Franklin-based O’More College of Design, moving their students to Belmont’s campus in Nashville. The plan united the two schools’ graphic design programs and added three more to Belmont: interior design, fashion design and fashion merchandising.
Belmont didn’t pay for O’More but acquired all of the college’s assets and expenses. Today, the O’More College of Architecture Art and Design is housed within Belmont’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.