The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt terminates at least ten athletics communications positions in effort to ‘[integrate] athletics with the university’s overall communications efforts’

Former employees of Vanderbilt athletics’ communications department were surprised to hear that their positions had been terminated.
Emily Gonçalves
Vanderbilt announced that defensive backs coach Dan Jackson will step back from the program for the time being. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Goncalves)

Vanderbilt invited members of its athletics communications department to separate Zoom meetings on July 6, where at least ten former employees were told their positions would be terminated come Sept. 4, sources told The Hustler. At least four of the former employees were instructed to return their equipment and not report to work, while at least six are being asked to work until their Sept. 4 termination.

A spokesperson for Vanderbilt athletics indicated in a statement to The Hustler on July 8 that the department was not being eliminated. Rather, the move was made in an effort to integrate athletics communications with university communications.

“We are continuously assessing and enhancing our commitment to the student-athlete experience at Vanderbilt. This includes examining and improving how we communicate about our efforts and with our Commodore supporters,” the statement said. “We are more closely integrating athletics with the university’s overall communications efforts, reflecting the importance of athletics to the university’s mission. We do not comment on personnel matters.” 

On July 16, Vanderbilt Athletic Director Candice Storey Lee discussed the athletics communications department, along with locker room renovations and allegations of sexual misconduct, in her open letter, “Growing Forward,” which she says will be the first of a series of regular communications with Commodore fans.

“I also wanted to address the recent changes we made to formally integrate athletics communications with the university’s communications team,” Lee wrote. “Our collaboration with university communications has grown significantly over the last several years. Formalizing this collaboration with an integrated team will provide a jolt of new resources, expertise, creativity and efficiency that will help us advance our goals and better tell our story.”

In an email obtained by The Hustler, Lee sent a memo on July 10 to the remaining members of the athletic department addressing the change.

“I recognize that this week in particular has been difficult for many of us and our colleagues for several reasons,” the email reads.  “One of those reasons is the restructuring of communications. We didn’t ‘eliminate’ or ‘abolish’ our communications/video departments.”

The email continued, “This restructuring presents an opportunity to more closely integrate our staff with [university communications] to ultimately increase our output and resources. … As part of this restructuring process, some athletics positions in communications, graphics and video have been eliminated.”

Lee’s email also noted that the personnel moves were not reflective of former employees’ performance.

The news that some positions were terminated was characterized as “shocking” by former employees of the athletic department, who spoke to The Hustler under the condition of anonymity due to employment.

One former employee said the subject of their Zoom invite was titled “Updates.”

“The email didn’t say what it was about,” the former employee said. “But mine was with Alan [George, Vanderbilt’s associate athletic director for communications]. I figured we would be talking about what the week held because Alan had been on vacation the week prior, so it made sense to me that we would all catch up.”

When the former employee entered the Zoom meeting, they were surprised to hear that Michelle Towns, assistant athletic director for human resource operations, would be joining the call. 

“When Michelle joined, Alan began reading what was basically an HR script,” the former employee said. “Something along the lines of how this is a sad day for Vanderbilt, and we’re sorry to inform you that your position has been eliminated. Then he explained how the position will now be held under university communications and that I have the ability to reapply for the position once it’s posted.”

“I thought I was doing a normal check-in with Alan,” another former employee told The Hustler over email. “Alan and Michelle Towns in HR were on the Zoom call. Nobody else. We all heard it on Monday morning.”

Sources confirmed that George and Towns were present in multiple meetings.

At the time of publication, at least two of the new positions have been listed online: athletics communications specialist and social media specialist, athletics. Both jobs were posted on July 8, two days after the Zoom meetings were held.

“It would have really helped if they just said some of this has to do with the fact that [Vanderbilt] may not play sports,” a third former employee told The Hustler. “At least use the global pandemic as an excuse. … If you want to restructure, you pick and choose the talent from the team that you have and you ask them if they’re willing to transfer under the university. You don’t just cut the whole staff.” 

Former athletics employees cited monthly check-in meetings as their only prior correspondence with members of university communications. They also claimed that during their time at Vanderbilt, athletics communications never had a working relationship with Steve Ertel, vice chancellor of university communications.

“I met [Ertel] once or twice. We were supposed to have a meeting with him on campus and our entire department walked over to Kirkland and waited in his office for probably 30 minutes. He showed with two minutes left, we shook his hand, he apologized for missing our meeting and that was it.”

Ertel did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment.

When asked to comment on the new structure of athletics communications, a Vanderbilt athletics spokesperson redirected The Hustler to the previous statement from July 8. University communications did not respond to a separate request for comment on the new structure.

In June, three former Vanderbilt athletics employees—administrative assistant Vicki Spina, sports psychologist Vickie Woosley and senior assistant athletic director for communications Larry Leathers—announced their retirement in a two-week span. On June 12, Leathers sent an email to credentialed media announcing that his 19-year Commodore career would come to a close after receiving a buyout offer that would let him retire. The Hustler was unable to confirm that Spina and Woosley, employees since 1994 and 2006, respectively, received the same buyout.

“I definitely didn’t see this coming even after [Spina, Woosley and Leathers] retired,” a former employee said. “But they had sent all of us an email in probably mid-April that said there was a retirement option. Well, it was an option that was basically targeting folks in the retirement age. It was a great deal for them and we all got the option, but it didn’t make sense for any other employees.”

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About the Contributors
Simon Gibbs, Former Sports Editor
Simon Gibbs (‘21) is the former Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since the first semester of his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Senior Writer and Deputy Sports Editor. Simon is also the host of VU Sports Wired on Vanderbilt Video Productions and The Hustler Sports 30 on VandyRadio. Simon has attended several events as credentialed media, including the 2019 NFL Draft, 2019 College Baseball World Series and the 2019 SEC Tournament. Outside of his Commodore coverage, Simon has had bylines published on and When he's not writing, you can find Simon watching his hometown New York Mets, waiting for that next ring. For tips, comments or concerns, please reach out to: [email protected]    
Emily Gonçalves, Former Multimedia Director
Emily Gonçalves (‘20) was the Multimedia Director of the Vanderbilt Hustler. She majored in Mathematics and Economics and minored in Latin American Studies. When she’s not taking photos, you can catch this Jersey girl making puns, singing, advocating for girls’ education and drinking lots of chocolate milk and espresso!
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Comments (2)

The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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Brian D.
3 years ago

If you believe that an organization’s values are reflected in the way they treat their employees, VU’s values would be completely at odds with the equality & social justice missions that my university claims to pursue.

How can equality be championed while simultaneously failing to regard & treat employees with dignity & respect?

The VU brand has been damaged, as it’s clear this mission of equality & treating others with dignity is only marketing talking points & not a way of life for the VU administration.

Duncan Williams
3 years ago

I hope you continue to dig in on this story and on the administration’s continued apathy and towards athletics. The leadership at Kirkland needs to be held accountable by the fans and media alike.