“Save Watkins” loses suit against Belmont

    Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 22 - Belmont University, site of the second 2020 presidential debate. (Photo: Ray Di Pietro)
    Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 22 - Belmont University, site of the second 2020 presidential debate. (Photo: Ray Di Pietro)

    A Nashville  judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by activists who challenged the takeover of Watkins College of Art by Belmont University.  

    “Save Watkins” plaintiff Mark Schlicher said the group is still considering whether or not to fight the decision. 

     “We are keeping our options open as we consult with each other and our attorneys, and review the judge’s ruling. We have not ruled out an appeal,” said Schlicher, who was previously an adjunct professor at Watkins. 

    Watkins College of Art, one of two independent art schools in Tennessee, was set to close by the end of 2020, until Belmont University president, Dr. Bob Fisher, offered to merge the two schools. The announcement was largely unpopular among students and faculty, who feared the merger details lacked transparency and that the private Christian school would censor too much of their work.

     Faculty, students and alumni then formed “Save Watkins” and contested the merger in court, arguing that the state-appointed Watkins Commissioners and Board violated their legal duty to the original trust left by founder Samuel Watkins in 1881. 

    Davidson County Chancellor Pat Head Moskal made the decision to dismiss the lawsuit, concluding that the “Save Watkins” plaintiffs lacked legal standing. She added that since Watkins students had already started school at Belmont University in August, the suit had been rendered moot.  

    Tensions continue at Belmont among merged Watkins students, who have expressed frustration over Belmont art college’s no-nudity policy in the classroom. 

    “Just last week, Watkins-at-Belmont art students have been prevented by Belmont policies from studying figure drawing with nude life models, as has been the classical practice and tradition for centuries,” said Schlicher. 

    “The culture of a small, secular, inclusive art college like Watkins was never a good fit to be absorbed into the conservative, explicitly religious culture of the Belmont behemoth,” he said. 

    Kevin Teets, attorney for “Save Watkins,” said Wednesday he’s unsure if the group will appeal Moskal’s ruling.

    “Our student clients fought hard to save the institution and legacy of Samuel Watkins that they loved,” he said “They took a stand when many adults simply looked the other way or denied the trust’s existence.”