Permission granted to change name of Vanderbilt’s Confederate Hall

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ A judge has ruled that Vanderbilt University can change the name of Confederate Memorial Hall to something it considers less inflammatory. After Vanderbilt announced plans last fall to drop “Confederate” from the building’s name, the private university was sued by the Tennessee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, whose $50,000 donation helped fund construction of the dormitory 70 years ago. Chancellor Irving Kilcrease threw out the lawsuit Tuesday, ruling the university had fulfilled its contractual obligations to the Confederate heritage group by installing a plaque on the side of the building explaining the history of the donation. “The name `Confederate’ on its building, with the stigma of the institution of slavery, is in contradiction of its policy of diversity and makes it extremely difficult to recruit minority faculty members and minority students,” Kilcrease wrote. Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee said in announcing the change last year that some students, faculty and staff refused to set foot in the dorm. The name, he wrote, “implied an endorsement, if not a celebration, of a system that is at the very least offensive to many people.” Doug Jones, an attorney for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said no decision had yet been made on whether to appeal Kilcrease’s ruling. “We think it’s a sad day when an institution as fine as Vanderbilt University has to try to rewrite history,” he said. “After Chancellor Gee is long gone the South will still be here.” Michael Schoenfeld, Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for media relations, said the university was “delighted” by the ruling. “We believe this is the correct decision,” he said. “The situation has always been about Vanderbilt’s ability to exercise its rights to be a great American university where individuals and ideas are welcomed and included.” In addition to the plaque noting the UDC donation, which Vanderbilt attached to the building 14 years ago, the word “Confederate” is carved in foot-high letters into the limestone above the main entrance. Schoenfeld said Vanderbilt had agreed not to change that as long as the lawsuit was pending and will now reconsider what to do after Kilcrease’s ruling. The dormitory was built as part of the George Peabody College for Teachers, which merged into Vanderbilt in 1979. Kilcrease wrote that when the UDC and Peabody entered into the series of contracts, “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.”

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