By Tribune Staff
NASHVILLE, TN — Only a select handful of Black men and women are in positions of power in either academia or major college athletics. Even fewer have authority in both areas. That is precisely the special position David Williams has at Vanderbilt. His position and qualifications, as well as a host of impressive achievements, make him a unique figure, and are the reason the Tennessee Tribune has selected him our 2017 Man of the Year.
David Williams was named vice chancellor, general counsel and secretary of Vanderbilt in 2000, and previously oversaw Vanderbilt student affairs. He joined Vanderbilt after serving as a professor of law and in numerous administrative roles at The Ohio State University for 14 years . He currently helps shape both Vanderbilt’s academic and athletic policies, and does so at a school competing in the nation’s toughest college league, the Southeastern Conference.
It was five years ago that Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos expanded Williams’ role. While he’s headed Vanderbilt Athletics since 2003, his additional duties included being responsible for the smooth integration of athletes into the overall workings of student life. Unlike many of his competitors, there are no easy courses offered for Vanderbilt athletes, no mechanisms in place to insure their eligibility and no special favors granted them.
Williams’ leadership has enabled Vanderbilt athletics to be successful without being divorced from campus life. The Commodores have won national championships in baseball and bowling. They’ve been to bowl games four times in recent years, including three in a row. The men’s and women’s basketball teams now have new coaches, but under their previous coaches won the 2012 SEC Tournament (men’s) and have competed regularly in the NCAA tournament (men’s and women’s). There was also a cross country SEC title won by the women’s team in 2011.
Add to that resume a host of baseball players drafted by Major League teams from the Vanderbilt roster, plus two first round draft choices in the 2012 NBA draft, and the opportunity to host NCAA tournament games in baseball and basketball, as well as hosting the 2012 NCAA women’s golf championship, the first time in history Vanderbilt hosted any national championship event.
But more importantly, Williams has made Vanderbilt one of the leaders in college sports for giving minority coaches employment opportunities. He’s hired two Black head football coaches in a league where several schools (including longtime rival Tennessee) have never hired any. He’s spearheaded a host of facility upgrades as well, with more scheduled to come.
If all those athletic exploits were the only things David Williams had done, that would be an enormous amount. But he’s equally involved in the academic end of NCAA sports. He is a member of the Division I Academic Cabinet, which reviews all measures dealing with academics before they are passed on to the Board of Directors. Plus he’s a member of the working group on enforcement, which is planning the adoption of an expanded, four-level violation structure for infractions as part of NCAA President Mark Emmert’s intercollegiate reform effort. Lastly, he’s part of the SEC team that negotiates television contracts for the SEC and helped in the creation of the SEC Network, a partnership with ESPN.
Yet he still finds time to be a tenured full professor at the Law School, where he teaches tax law, sports law, and education law. He has also taught a class on Law and Higher Education at the university’s Peabody College of education and human development, and occasionally teaches courses in the undergraduate curriculum.
There’s also plenty of community activity and involvement. Williams’ affiliations include the Nashville Public Television Board of Directors, Nashville Symphony, Nashville Sports Council, Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, Adventure Science Center, 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee, the Community Foundation, Special Olympics of Tennessee, the Center for Nonprofit Management and the Rotary Club of Nashville. .
Professionally, he is an active member of the American Corporate Counsel Association, the National Association of College and University Attorneys and the American Bar Association. As a member of ABA’s Section of Business Law, Williams has served as a member of the Corporate Counsel Committee. He held terms on two prestigious legal committees – the ABA Standing Committee on Public Education and the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions Standards Review Committee.
Williams also is a member of the American Law Institute, and a past member of the Harry Phillips Inn of Court. He has served on a number of ABA Accreditation site visits of law schools and has completed a term on the Membership Review Committee of the American Association of Law Schools. Williams recently completed a three-year term on the board of directors for the National Association for Colleges and University Attorneys.
A proud family man, Williams and his wife Gail have four children. They are: Erika, a grade school teacher in Detroit; David Williams III, an academic counselor at Michigan State University; Samantha, a recent Brown University graduate who is now working in Washington, DC, and Nicholas, a high school senior who competes in basketball, soccer and track.
For all that he does for Vanderbilt and the city of Nashville as an administrator, educator, and active citizen, The Tennessee Tribune proudly selects David Williams our 2017 Man of the Year.