By MICHAEL CASS
Vanderbilt University must either keep the word ”Confederate” in the name inscribed on a residence hall or pay back the United Daughters of the Confederacy for its contribution to the building’s construction, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled.
Vanderbilt announced in 2002 that it would change the now-70-year-old building’s name to ”Memorial Hall” because the word ”Confederate” had overtones of slavery and was offensive to some current and prospective students and employees. The UDC, which contributed $50,000 to the construction, argued that the building was simply a memorial to fallen soldiers, with no racist implications.
The appeals court overturned a Davidson County chancellor’s 2003 ruling in Vanderbilt’s favor. The three-judge panel ruled that the original, Depression-era contracts between the UDC and Peabody College — which merged with Vanderbilt in 1979 — required that the building must be called ”Confederate Memorial Hall” as long as it stands.
”The Court of Appeals found that there were three valid contracts, which is what we argued,” UDC attorney Doug Jones said of the ruling, which was filed yesterday. ”The dormitory wouldn’t have been built without the UDC’s efforts.”
Michael Schoenfeld, Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for public affairs, said the university would obey the court’s decision but believes ”we did the right thing for the right reasons.”
”Reasonable people can differ about whether or not there was a contract and, if so, what that contract stipulated, but the fact is that the court has spoken, and we will certainly abide by the law as far as the inscription on the building is concerned,” he said.
The Court of Appeals sent the case back to Davidson County Chancery Court to determine the present-day value of the UDC’s 1933 gift to Peabody.
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