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David Williams stepping down as vice chancellor, athletics director

by Sep. 11, 2018, 10:08 AM

Vanderbilt’s first African American vice chancellor will return to teaching after a distinguished 27-year career in higher education administration and will establish a new Sports, Law & Society Program at Vanderbilt Law School.

David Williams II, vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletics director at Vanderbilt University, announced today that he plans to step down from his leadership role at the helm of the Commodores, ending his trailblazing 15-year tenure leading Vanderbilt Athletics. Originally planning to step down at the end of the 2017-18 academic year, Williams agreed to extend his service as athletics director for up to a year to help ensure a smooth transition.

Williams will continue in his current roles until his successor is named and in place. He will then transition full-time to his role as a tenured professor of law at the Vanderbilt Law School, a position he has held along with his university leadership responsibilities since he first joined the university faculty in 2000. In addition, Williams will continue his focus on the important role sports plays in society by establishing a new Sports, Law & Society Program at Vanderbilt Law School.

“David is a visionary leader and has helped lead a transformation at Vanderbilt, both within athletics and across the entire university.”

“David is a visionary leader and has helped lead a transformation at Vanderbilt, both within athletics and across the entire university,” Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said. “We are all deeply grateful for his commitment to build a program where student-athletes thrive on and off the field – competing in one of the nation’s toughest athletics conferences, flourishing within a rigorous academic environment, and developing the leadership qualities that will bolster their success and impact beyond Vanderbilt.

“I am incredibly appreciative that David agreed to extend his service up to a year to enable a successful transition,” Zeppos added. “We will immediately begin our search for a new athletics director who can build on the foundation David has laid for generations of Commodores to come.”

Under Williams, the Commodores have enjoyed unprecedented success on and off the field, and his leadership extended well beyond the athletics program.

“It has been a remarkable run and I have cherished the opportunity to work with so many passionate and committed students, coaches and staff,” said Williams. “After 27 years as a senior administrator in higher education, I am also excited to move back to my first love of teaching and to bring all that I’ve learned and experienced fully into that role.” [*NOTE: A full statement from David Williams is below.]

During Williams’ tenure, the Commodores have won four national championships – in bowling, baseball and women’s tennis. Vanderbilt has also won more than 19 league titles and tournaments, including the men’s golf and women’s tennis Southeastern Conference championships and the Southland Conference Bowling Championship. The Vanderbilt football team has played in five bowl games during Williams’ tenure, breaking a 26-year drought in 2008.

Academically, Vanderbilt student-athletes have earned over a cumulative 3.0 GPA every year for the past 13 years. In the NCAA’s recently released Academic Progress Rates (APR) for the 2016-17 academic year, a total of 11 Commodore athletic programs finished with perfect 1000 APR scores, and Vanderbilt football finished No. 2 in the nation.

A hallmark of Williams’ tenure has been the expansion of academic and experiential opportunities for student-athletes. In the summer of 2017, Vanderbilt Athletics provided full financial support for 10 student-athletes to study abroad, an opportunity often not available to student-athletes because of their demanding play and practice schedules. The athletic department also offers the country’s most comprehensive summer internship program for student-athletes. In 2017, 84 student-athletes took part in summer internships in the Nashville area. The program has been recognized by peers as a model to replicate. In addition, the department sponsored its fifth annual international service trip, in conjunction with Soles4Souls, by having 25 student-athletes travel to Morocco.

He also added to Vanderbilt’s football traditions, instituting Anchor Dash, where first-year students get the chance to lead the football team out onto the field as a class before each home opener, and “Dropping the Anchor,” where before each home game a group or individual is selected to “drop the anchor” at midfield to mark the beginning of game day events.

“There is no doubt that David’s impact has been transformational,” said Vanderbilt Board of Trust member John R. Ingram. “During his tenure, Vanderbilt won national championships in three different sports – a significant achievement as Vanderbilt had previously never experienced such success. And there is little doubt that more national championships are on the horizon. I have been fortunate to work with David on a number of efforts to support and enhance Vanderbilt Athletics, and I look forward to his continuing impact as an educator and advocate for sports as he begins a new chapter.”

During his tenure as athletics director, Williams brought significant attention to sports’ impact on society, underscoring Vanderbilt’s rich and often troubled history during the civil rights movement, and he was instrumental in leading efforts for recognition of and reconciliation with Vanderbilt and Nashville pioneers, such as Perry Wallace, and in educating current students, faculty and staff about the university’s past.

“Establishing the Sports, Law & Society Program at the Law School will lay a new foundation for deeper understanding of the role sports has and continues to play in shaping many of the biggest issues in our country and the world.”

“Establishing the Sports, Law & Society Program at the Law School will lay a new foundation for deeper understanding of the role sports has and continues to play in shaping many of the biggest issues in our country and the world,” Williams said.

“I am excited that the university is establishing a Sports, Law & Society Program at the Law School, and I cannot imagine a more qualified leader than David Williams,” noted Chris Guthrie, dean of Vanderbilt’s Law School and John Wade-Kent Syverud Professor of Law. “David’s teaching, writing and thought leadership will elevate Vanderbilt’s profile in sports law and enrich our companion programs in intellectual property, law and business, and social justice.”

Williams led numerous athletic facility upgrades and expansions, including Vanderbilt Stadium, Hawkins Field, Brownlee O. Currey Tennis Center, Memorial Gym, the Hendrix Dining Room, McGugin Center, the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, the golf teams’ clubhouse and hitting bay, and a new bowling alley. Williams also headed the development of the multipurpose facility, which houses an indoor practice field that is used for varsity football, soccer and lacrosse as well as intramural and club sports teams, and an indoor track used by the Vanderbilt community.

Under Williams’ leadership, Vanderbilt and Nashville were selected to host a string of NCAA and SEC championship events. Vanderbilt will co-host the 2021 NCAA Regional Championship for Division I men’s golf and the 2018 SEC Outdoor Championships for track and field. Vanderbilt also has helped host multiple NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals for baseball and a number of SEC Championships, including indoor track and field and women’s tennis in 2017, men’s tennis and the women’s basketball Final Four in 2014, and cross country and women’s golf in 2012.

Williams served on the NCAA’s General Advisory Board, its Academic Council, the Enforcement Task Force and was chair of its Infractions Appeals Committee. Williams is presently serving as a member of the NCAA’s Minority Opportunities Committee. He is a member of the state bars of Tennessee, Michigan and the District of Columbia and is an active member of the American Bar Association, where he served on the Bar Admissions Committee. He was also a member of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions Standards Review Committee and the Standing Committee on Public Education.

In addition, Williams has served on the board of directors of numerous community organizations, including Nashville Public Television, Second Harvest Food Bank, Nashville Symphony, Adventure Science Center, 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee, Special Olympics of Tennessee, the Center for Nonprofit Management, the Rotary Club of Nashville, United Way (chair), and the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve (chair). He presently serves on the board of directors for the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the Nashville Sports Council, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, and as the chair of the Nashville Public Education Foundation. He has also been reappointed to the Nashville Symphony board and is co-chair of the National Museum of African American Music and Culture Campaign.

Williams was named Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor, general counsel and secretary in 2000 and previously oversaw Vanderbilt student affairs. In 2013, he was named vice chancellor for university affairs and athletics director.

He joined Vanderbilt after serving as a professor of law and in numerous administrative roles at Ohio State University for 14 years. Over the course of his career, Williams has written, lectured and participated in many seminars on topics of tax law, sports law, law and education, and legal history. In addition to serving on Vanderbilt’s law faculty, he has taught at the law schools of Belmont University, the University of Detroit, Capital University and Ohio State University, and he directed the Ohio State University law program in Oxford, England, in 1992 and 1995.

A native of Detroit, Williams is a two-time graduate of Northern Michigan University, where he was a member of the track team. He also earned a master of business administration and a doctor of jurisprudence from the University of Detroit, where he presently serves as a member of its Board of Trustees, and an L.L.M. in taxation from New York University. Before entering law school, Williams spent 10 years as a teacher and coach in the Detroit public school system.

Full statement from David Williams on his stepping down as vice chancellor, athletics director:

“Last year after spending over 25 years as a senior administrator at two major institutions of higher education – 18 of which were at Vanderbilt, I felt it was time to step away and return to my first love of teaching and let others enjoy these amazing administrative opportunities. In my discussion with Chancellor Zeppos, I agreed to remain for up to one additional year to make sure we were on solid ground and to ensure a smooth transition.

After presenting the championship rings to our two-time national championship women’s bowling team and watching our football team (2-0) and women’s soccer team (7-1) get off to great season starts, I realized this was the time to officially announce that this will be my final year and I will be stepping down as Vice Chancellor and Athletics Director.

I want to thank Chancellor Zeppos and the Vanderbilt Board of Trust for this outstanding opportunity and to also thank the amazing Commodore fans for their support and love of our student athletes. A special thanks goes to my wonderful colleagues in athletics as well as my colleagues in other parts of this great university. Very special thanks goes out to the great team of coaches we have here at Vanderbilt, who are a special group of men and women who not only coach but educate and develop our young people.

I am excited to return to teaching, which is one of my first loves, and to do some research and writing in the areas of law, sports, society and social justice.

A huge thanks and love goes out to the hundreds of student athletes I have had the pleasure to be associated with as the head of this department. As I have always stated to you, ‘You are the Best of the Best.’ It has been my true pleasure to be a small part of your life. Finally my largest thanks goes out to my wife, Gail; my four children, Erika, David III, Samantha and Nicholas; my six grandchildren, David IV, Jazmin, Tiffany, Dayon, Daiaha and Zoe; my great grandson, Desmond, and my entire family and friends. Thank you for your total support and for allowing me to do this and pursue these opportunities. I love you guys.

I look forward to taking some time to travel to some places I have wanted to visit and to do some things I have put on hold. I am excited to return to teaching, which is one of my first loves, and to do some research and writing in the areas of law, sports, society and social justice as well as leading the Sports, Law and Society initiative at our Law School. I think I will take up the offer from Coach Allen and Coach Limbaugh and see if I can develop some degree of a golf game with their excellent instruction. While I definitely want to spend more time with my family, and hopefully improve and finish my work on Motown music, I plan on getting even more involved in our local community and nonprofit work in the city. I plan on remaining busy.

Anchor Down!”

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