By Bill Harless
December 01, 2004
The Tennessee Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments Jan. 5 in a controversy between Vanderbilt University and the Tennessee Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (TDUDC).
Vanderbilt won a 2003 Chancery Court decision permitting the university to remove the word “Confederate” from the name of a residence hall.
In 2002, Vanderbilt dropped the word “Confederate” from the name of a dormitory on the Peabody campus that had been called Confederate Memorial Hall.
The dormitory was built in 1935. It housed, at little or no cost, female descendants of Confederate soldiers who were attending the George Peabody College of Teachers, according to the Vanderbilt Web site.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy donated $50,000 to help fund the building’s construction.
Vanderbilt merged with Peabody in 1979.
In 2002, after Vanderbilt changed the name of the building, TDUDC sued Vanderbilt for breach of contract, saying contracts signed between Peabody and TDUDC before construction mandate the building’s name remain Confederate Memorial Hall.
In a September 2003 memorandum outlining his reasons for dismissing the TDUDC lawsuit, now-retired Davidson County Chancellor Irvin Kilcrease said the only contract requiring Peabody to name the building “Confederate Memorial Hall” is invalid because not all of its conditions had previously been met.
Kilcrease wrote that when TDUDC and Peabody executed contracts for building Memorial, “they apparently did not realize that public policy on race would change and that discrimination against minorities, including African-Americans, would be against the law and further, that a stigma would be attached to the name ‘Confederacy’ because of its relationship to the institution of slavery.”
“It is impractical and unduly burdensome for Vanderbilt to perform that part of the contract pertaining to the maintenance of the name ‘Confederate’ on the building” because of the difficulty this causes in recruiting minority faculty members and students, Kilcrease wrote.
Vanderbilt lawyers pointed to a $2.5 million renovation of Memorial in 1987, to which it says TDUDC did not contribute, as proof that TDUDC “had fully realized the value of its contribution.”
Vanderbilt asserted that the principles of academic freedom override any contractual commitment which may still exist regarding the building’s name.
Vanderbilt also argued that “prospective students have refused to attend Vanderbilt because they were offended by the existence of a dormitory on its campus whose stated purpose was to honor a cause that is entwined with support for slavery and white supremacy.”
The Vanderbilt Web site says a historic plaque installed on Memorial in 1989 explaining its origins and the contributions of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to its construction fulfills any commitment to maintain the building as a memorial to Confederate War veterans.
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