Vanderbilt to return $1.2M, remove 'Confederate' name
- An appellate judge previously denied Vanderbilt University officials the right to remove the word 'Confederate' from one of its residence halls, saying the name was tied to a $50,000 gift donated in 1933.
- Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos maintained the change was necessary for healing in the ongoing discussions about race on college campuses nationwide, and agreed to return $1.2 million to the original donors — the 2016 value of the gift — to have the name removed.
- Confronted with similar concerns about racial healing on campus, some institutions the University of Texas at Austin chose to add statues of civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Jordan, rather than to remove statues honoring confederate leaders. Harvard University made headlines last fall with the placement of a plaque honoring slaves who helped to build the campus.
Recent controversies over donor control and influence on campus have sparked concerns about academic integrity on campus. Vanderbilt had the luxury of anonymous donors contributing funds to replace the $1.2 million school leaders plan to return to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, but many campuses do not have the same resources to complete a similar move.
As political correctness and tolerance become more of a focus in building campus diversity, presidents should consider proactively auditing the history behind many of their facilities and their naming, and beginning conversations with students about attitudes or unspoken microagressions created by various symbols, building names and endowed chairs. They should also recognize it's not just racist histories that can create dissension; Spelman College recently returned an endowed professorship funded by disgraced donor Bill Cosby because of concerns amid numerous rape allegations.
College trustees and presidents who get ahead of controversial names and symbols on campus, and inviting feedback on how to resolve them, are much better positioned to find compromise among cooler heads.