TN Art School To Purge Non-Christian Faculty After Christian Univ. Takes Over
The Watkins College of Art in Nashville, Tennessee, announced last month that the school will be absorbed by a local Christian university that intends to rid the college of all faculty who do not follow the Christian faith, according to Artnew News.
Students and staff alike were devastated by the news, particularly as Belmont University — a religious institution that has made national headlines for allegedly retaliating against faculty who fail to adhere to its strict code of faith — made clear that unwelcome change is on the horizon.
Thomas Burns, Belmont’s provost, said during a January townhall that the university does not “hire people who are not Christian,” adding: “So the ones who are not Christian will not be eligible to work at Belmont. That’s just part of who we are.”
Watkins College president J. Kline attempted to sell the merger as necessary due to financial troubles and good in that it “secures the legacy and mission of Watkins for generations to come” — but many disagreed, leading to a call for a vote of no confidence.
“The problem with the merger is that we have two different cultures,” a Watkins faculty member told Artnet News, remaining anonymous over fear of retaliation. “The reality is that there will be restrictions. Our students are taught to be uninhibited and explore subjects and issues that may clash against Belmont’s Christian culture.”
Both Watkins and Belmont officials have confirmed to students that new restrictions will be on the way “at the Christian school where filmmakers must make PG movies and artists not permitted to draw from nude figures to study the human form.”
Artnet News noted that in 2010, Belmont came under fire for forcing soccer coach Lisa Howe to resign after she told her team she is a lesbian and was having a baby with her partner.
Athletic director Mike Strickland reportedly said “the baby ‘was going to be a problem’ and would conflict with the university’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach.”
The university made national headlines again in 2018 when officials let go a member of the theater faculty over the production of a play that used the words “goddamn” and “fuck.”
School officials requested that the offending words be struck from the script, but as Artnet News noted, “most theatrical productions are forbidden from making alterations to the text without the express written permission of the playwright.” Rather than cancel the play, faculty member and director Jacqueline Jutting opted to take the production off-campus with the Actors Bridge Studio. She was later fired, and the university “severed its 23-year relationship with the studio.”
None of this is comforting to students and faculty at Watkins.
“The reality is that very few faculty will end up at Belmont,” the anonymous instructor said, noting that some teachers are not Christians and would be forced to leave. “Some people have been at Watkins for over 25 years, but there would be redundancies staffing-wise. Belmont doesn’t need our admissions and financial aid personnel, and there aren’t many teaching positions open in their art departments.”