- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

The Tennessee division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy filed suit yesterday to prevent Vanderbilt University from dropping the word "Confederate" from the name of a dormitory.

Vanderbilt officials announced last month that Confederate Memorial Hall built in 1935 with money raised by the UDC would be renamed simply Memorial Hall.

The UDC suit, filed in chancery court in Nashville, accuses the university of violating three contracts between the UDC and George Peabody College for Teachers, which became part of Vanderbilt in 1979.

The contracts, signed in 1913, 1927 and 1933, specify that the name Confederate Memorial Hall "will be inscribed in the front face of the building," said Doug Jones, an attorney for the UDC. The Daughters seek an injunction to prevent Vanderbilt from removing that name.

"We have asked for damages, but our main thing is to stop them from changing the name on the building," Mr. Jones said last night.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice chancellor for public affairs at Vanderbilt, predicted the university would win the court challenge.

"Ever since this issue came up as a debate in 1989, we have reviewed the legal issues and we are confident that we have the legal right to make this change on our campus," Mr. Schoenfeld said.

The university's plan to rename the dorm is "disappointing," said Tennessee UDC President Janet Johnson of Millington.

"It's not really about the Confederacy, it's about all the work those ladies put into [the dorm]," she said, adding that the organization has been active in charitable work.

UDC members "sold bonds during World War II. Any time there's been a need, the UDC has been there," Mrs. Johnson said. "The UDC has sent money and clothing to help September 11 victims."

During the Great Depression, the Daughters raised $50,000 one-third of the construction cost to build Confederate Memorial Hall. The UDC was founded in Nashville in 1894, and the group's association with Vanderbilt dates back to 1902, Mr. Jones said.

"The UDC has worked with [Vanderbilt] for 100 years, and then they go and do this based on political correctness," he said. "They took our money during the Depression and were proud to have it. At least that's what they said back then."

The Daughters were upset that Vanderbilt did not consult them before announcing the name change Sept. 17. Negotiations with Vanderbilt over the name began earlier this month, but Mr. Jones blamed a public remark by the head of the university for ending those talks.

"This is not a matter of political correctness," Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee told the Tennessean in an Oct. 6 story. "It's a matter of moral correctness."

"On the Sunday front page of the Tennessean, they said the UDC was immoral," Mr. Jones said. "That sort of ended negotiations."

Concerning the university's motives, Mrs. Johnson said, "I think Vanderbilt feels it needs to diversify. But, you know, the Confederacy is part of diversity, it's part of history."

Mr. Schoenfeld denied any such intent, noting that the university planned to leave in place an 1989 plaque detailing the dormitory's history.

But the UDC lawyer likened Vanderbilt's proposal to an act of terrorism.

"This is about American history, not one group's history," Mr. Jones said. "There's no difference between this and the Taliban blowing up those Buddhist statues in Afghanistan."


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