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Belmont to consider non-Christian faculty from Watkins

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

Belmont University has confirmed it will consider non-Christian Watkins College of Art faculty for positions at Belmont in the fall of 2020.

Because Watkins employees could not have anticipated the merger, they will be given “special consideration” for Belmont jobs — regardless of their faith, according to a statement from Belmont’s Office of Communications.

This is an exception to Belmont’s standard policy, which bars non-Christians from becoming faculty — and a reversal from what Provost Dr. Thomas Burns said in a Q&A with Watkins students last Thursday.

Belmont announced plans to merge with Watkins last week. That news was met with student protests at Watkins and uncertainty at both schools.

Issues of concern were the future of non-Christian faculty at Watkins, the safety of Watkins LGBTQ students and artistic freedom.

Watkins faculty, which numbers less than 25, were officially told last week that only Christian faculty would be considered, Belmont then reversed its decision.

“This exception to our hiring policy is only being made due to the nature of merging institutions and out of Belmont’s commitment to care for the Watkins community,” says the statement.

All other faculty, current and future, will remain Christian.

For many Watkins students, this change comes as a relief — for senior Lyv Kenney, the faculty members are a huge part of what makes the school so special.

“These people raised me,” Kenney said. “I was as close to them as I was close to my family, in a way, because of how much they taught me, and how I’ve grown over four years of spending day after day in a classroom with them.”

Aggie Smith, a Belmont graduate who took classes at Watkins, said Belmont would benefit from hiring non-Christian faculty, as it would give better representation to Belmont’s diverse student body.

“I understand Belmont is a private Christian institution … but isn’t the whole point of college absorbing a bunch of different perspectives? I do still feel like I got that from Belmont — but only in the way that Belmont would allow me to get it.”

She called the change in policy “a win” for Watkins and Belmont students.

But Belmont assistant professor of communications Dr. Jeremy Fyke said the issue is nuanced, with no clear solution.

“An organization has to balance what people think — image — with who it is and what it stands for — values.”

To Fyke, Belmont must encourage open dialogue about religion without sacrificing the university’s core values, he said; and this is ultimately a matter of conflicting values.

Belmont has long been a Christian school. In 2007, it broke away from the Tennessee Baptist Convention after a 56-year relationship but remains a Christian university.

“It is important for any institution to be able to stand up for and stick to its values,” said Fyke in an email.

“Whether it’s religion or any other criteria by which we assess a potential candidate (e.g., having a terminal degree), there are certain things that must be met as a condition; this just happens to hit on a value.”

Contributing reporting by Steven Boero and Katie Knipper. Photo by Abigail Bowen.

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