Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Vanderbilt University has raised a novel defense in a breach of contract action: academic freedom. Vanderbilt, it seems, very much wants to keep its valuable Confederate Memorial Hall dormitory, but doesn’t want to have to keep using that name, which it claims has racist overtones and costs it students every year.
Problem is, the contract with the original donors, the Tennessee Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, specifies that the building must always be called "Confederate Memorial Hall," and the Daughters have no intention of agreeing to the change. They sued Vanderbilt but lost at the trial court, the judge ruling that it would be "unduly burdensome" for Vanderbilt to stick to the terms of the agreement, and that it was free to ignore that part of the contract. Academic freedom, argues the University, allows it to bar the "Confederate" name whatever the contract says.
The Confederate Daughters, who no doubt dislike having the world "Confederate" banned from the school as much as they dislike welshers, have appealed; a hearing is set for January 12.