Belmont Stands At Credibility Crossroads

Mike Curb

MusicRow’s beat rarely strays from entertainment industry analysis and reporting, but in the case of Belmont’s University’s recent ouster of gay soccer coach, Lisa Howe, we feel compelled to join a growing chorus of press, students and city leaders urging the University with strong music industry ties, to first rehire Ms. Howe, and then amend and update its policies.

Mike Curb has been a strong Belmont supporter. The Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business bears his name as does the Curb Event center. MusicRow spoke with Curb last night (12/7) about his letter [see below] sent yesterday to Andrew Miller, President of the Belmont Faculty Senate which publicly communicated his deep concern over Belmont’s actions. Curb also congratulates the Faculty Senate on its approval of a resolution in support of gay members of the campus community. “The Senate believes that the sexual identity of individuals should not impact that person’s standing on campus,” states the resolution, which was passed unanimously.

Curb’s letter asks the University to go beyond just sexual orientation. “I hope this also means that there can be no discrimination based upon race, religion or sexual orientation,” he says. Not too many years ago Belmont policy made headlines when a Jewish legal professor was asked to sign a statement adhering to “Christian values.” Curb was involved, behind-the-scenes at that time, in helping to get the wording changed to “Judeo-Christian values.” Curb, a Belmont Trustee Emeritus, also notes in his recent letter that although Howe’s dismissal has been characterized as a Board approved decision, he was never contacted about the issue.

“Belmont has to decide whether they want to be a nationally recognized university—particularly with their school of music business—or they want to be a church,” Curb told the Tennessean this week. Curb also publicly supported gay rights in the late ’70s when running for lieutenant governor in California.

Marty Dickens, Chairman of the Metro Convention Center Authority and Chairman of Belmont’s Board of Trustees was recently quoted in the Tennessean saying that Belmont has a strict no sex outside of marriage policy. “We expect people to commit themselves to high moral and ethical standards within a Christian context.” A Facebook page calling for his resignation from the MCCA can be found here. A recent Sports Illustrated editorial by Jeff Pearlman refers to Dickens saying, “One of the greatest things about morality is how those who claim to act on its behalf are often the ones drinking from the emptiest cups.

Tennessean writer Gail Kerr sums the issue nicely in a recent editorial. “Belmont top dogs need to realize that Pandora’s Box is now wide open,” Kerr writes. “They cannot close it by denying this is a big deal. And they cannot continue to pretend to be a ‘progressive’ university, with an emphasis on diversity that they have preached and pushed in fundraising campaigns, and then turn around and fire people for being gay. If their standard truly is not allowing anyone to work there who has extramarital sex, does that mean they will cross-examine every member of the Belmont board of trustees and faculty? Have any of them ever, pray tell, cheated on their spouse? Seduced a student? Or are those sorts of things allowable as long as everybody whispers but doesn’t talk?”

Belmont interim provost Pat Raines said yesterday (12/7), “Belmont University welcomes diverse perspectives and aspires to increasingly engage our local and global communities, creating a culture of inclusion and mutual respect. As an ecumenical Christian university, we value and affirm the worth of every member of our community. At the same time we frequently engage our students in dialogue on the divergent perspectives of important issues, including Christian thinking about human sexuality, an issue being discussed and debated among many faith denominations around the globe. Members of the Belmont community—our students, employees, administration and board—represent a wide array of diverse perspectives on this issue, and we welcome hearing their voices in this ongoing dialogue. As part of its role, the Faculty Senate reviews and provides input on policies and procedures that impact academic matters, general education and the welfare of the faculty. We appreciate the leadership they provide and their commitment to the Belmont mission. We value their input and support their right to craft and advance this resolution.”

Dr. Robert Fisher

When the story broke on Dec. 3, Belmont President Dr. Robert Fisher declined to comment telling Channel 4, WSMV the issue was an “athletics matter.” Dr. Fisher, who Mike Curb describes as a “man with a good heart,” has accomplished a great deal during the last decade. Now as he steers Belmont into a modern era, he is being thrust into a pivotal, decision-making moment. According to Curb, Belmont’s music school is the largest stand alone school in the nation and more than half of Belmont’s students either study music business or music in general. Curb notes correctly, “When our students enter the workforce, they will be entering an industry where gay people have made incredible contributions.”

Nashville’s music community has a vested interest in supporting Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business which has already contributed a great deal to our industry. MusicRow joins Mr. Curb and many others in urging the University to adopt a comprehensive policy that bans discrimination against students and faculty on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation—before it is too late.

• • •

Curb’s Letter To Andrew Miller, President of Belmont Faculty Senate

Dear Andrew:
As a Trustee for a number of years and presently a Trustee Emeritus, I would like to congratulate the Faculty Senate for backing the right of professors and staff to not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation.  I hope this also means that there can be no discrimination based upon race, religion or sexual orientation.  Hopefully, Belmont will offer to re-hire Lisa Howe and hopefully this type of injustice will never happen again.

Belmont’s Curb College is the largest stand alone music business college in the nation and more than half of Belmont’s students study either the music business or music in general.  All of us know that there are gay students at Belmont who are also very concerned.  When our students enter the workforce, they will be entering an industry where gay people have made incredible contributions.

Belmont and the Curb Event Center (where Lisa Howe worked) have become recognized nationally because of the presidential debate with President Obama and Senator McCain and other major entertainment concerts, sports events and forums held at the Curb Event Center.  If we leave an issue like this unresolved, I would strongly doubt that we would ever have an opportunity to compete for major entertainment opportunities at the Event Center in the future.

Even though it’s been reported that the Board has backed this, I can tell you that no one from Belmont or the Board has contacted me regarding this issue.  I will do everything I can to try to get the Board of Trustees to reconsider their position based on the fact that this is a basic civil rights issue.

Sincerely, Mike Curb

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David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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