Chancellor named as ‘person of 2016’ by Tennessee Tribune

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (Vanderbilt University)

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos was named as a “person of the year” for 2016 by the Tennessee Tribune, Nashville’s African American newspaper.

Zeppos was honored for the university’s efforts to remove the name “Confederate” from Memorial Hall. He announced in August 2016 that the university was returning a donation made 83 years ago so that it could permanently remove the name from the residence hall.

“The Tennessee Tribune’s recognition represents a great honor to the culture of inclusiveness that we strive to promote on Vanderbilt’s campus and the value we place on celebrating our diverse community,” Zeppos said. “I am deeply humbled and delighted to thank everyone who has taken notice of the strides we’ve made and the importance that we place on ensuring that each member of our community feels included, valued and appreciated. ”

The Tennessee Tribune has issued the annual accolades for about 20 years. This year, along with Zeppos, the paper recognized Phyllis Qualls, most recently the executive director of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women, and social justice advocate Jocelyn Dan Wurzburg of Memphis.

“[lquote]There is no one compared to Chancellor Zeppos in Nashville,” said Rosetta Miller Perry, the publisher, editor and CEO of the Tribune. “That decision about Memorial Hall could have destroyed him, and making that decision takes a person who is committed to the community. At this time in our lives, he’s the type of person that we really need in leadership.”[/lquote]

In compliance with a 2005 Tennessee Court of Appeals decision, the university paid the Tennessee Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy $1.2 million as a return in present value of $50,000 the organization contributed to the George Peabody College for Teachers in 1933 toward the building’s construction and naming rights. Vanderbilt paid the sum with gifts from anonymous donors designated to be used specifically for this purpose. No institutional funds were used.

The newspaper noted that Zeppos’s decision “took courage, but also came at significant fiscal cost.”

“No one should downplay the significance of this move,” the editorial reads. “It culminated a 14-year struggle to take the Confederate name off the residence hall. Zeppos has publicly rebuffed contentions that he and Vanderbilt are distorting or changing history, and also debunked the notion that Vanderbilt was denying its own history.”

Throughout his service as Vanderbilt’s eighth chancellor, Zeppos has stressed the importance of ensuring a welcoming campus community. He appointed George C. Hill as vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and the university’s first chief diversity officer in November 2015. He also has announced a number of initiatives, including establishing a faculty committee that studied and made recommendations on diversity, equity and community, and the establishment of three new faculty chairs to help advance Vanderbilt’s leadership role as a diverse and inclusive learning, teaching and living environment.

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