Gee discusses vision of ‘one university’ at Fall Faculty Assembly

by Kara Furlong for the Vanderbilt Register

The start of the academic year is a time for renewal, and this fall Vanderbilt finds itself on the path to becoming a more selective, more unified university, Chancellor Gordon Gee said during his annual address to the Fall Faculty Assembly.

“Every year, Vanderbilt changes its texture when thousands of individual minds new to us, points of view new to us … take up work and residence on campus,” Gee said Aug. 24 at the Student Life Center. “Every fall, you can sense the intellectual landscape of the university reconfiguring itself.”

Part of that reconfiguration includes keeping institutional initiatives apace with the university’s changing landscape. As Vanderbilt becomes more selective in its admissions, it is also reaching out to underrepresented populations and is dedicated to providing students with a more holistic university experience.

College Halls at Vanderbilt, the university’s developing residential college system, passed a hallmark this summer with the opening of two new residence halls – Crawford House and Sutherland House – at the Commons on the Peabody College campus.

“We are creating a brilliant base of students,” Gee said. “Around this immensely talented population … we continue to reinvent and re-invigor undergraduate education, and foster new ways of building community between students and faculty.”

Gee noted another such effort, Vanderbilt Visions, a new initiative involving some 80 faculty members who will conduct regular discussion sessions with first-year students well into the spring semester.

Gee recognized some newly established leaders in the process: Doug Christiansen, the new associate provost and dean of admissions; Mark Bandas, the newly appointed dean of students; and Frank Wcislo, the newly named dean of the Commons.

Gee also recognized the contributions of Vice Chancellor for University Affairs David Williams and his team. In 2000, the chancellor charged Williams with restructuring student life, which this summer was reintegrated into academic affairs. “They have brought us to the point at which we can fully manifest our intention of furnishing an experience for our students that is integrated, that seamlessly yokes the social to the academic,” he said.

Vanderbilt’s graduate programs also are becoming more selective, while seeing an increased rate of success. “Applications for enrollment in the Graduate School for the last academic year were almost double what they were in 2001,” Gee said. “At the same time … we have managed to award almost 30 more Ph.D.s than we did five years ago.” To fuel further growth, the university has established the Program to Enhance Graduate Education, the purpose of which is to enable graduate faculty to identify and propose areas for improvement within their disciplines.

None of Vanderbilt’s unprecedented growth would be possible without its current financial strength, according to Gee. “We have finished this year in the best financial standing in the history of the university,” he said. Gee credited retiring Vice Chancellor for Investments and University Treasurer Bill Spitz, who has shepherded Vanderbilt’s endowment from $300 million to $3 billion during his 21-year tenure. Gee also announced the university is on the verge of meeting the $1.25 billion goal of its Shape the Future campaign.

Vanderbilt’s Academic Venture Capital Fund has sparked the creation of interdisciplinary courses, transinstitutional centers and collaboration among undergraduates, graduate researchers and faculty. “We have the success of the Academic Venture Capital Fund to thank for much of this university’s unification and renewal,” Gee said.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s “Elevate” program has been philosophically integrated into how staff there serve patients and work with one another. “‘Elevate’ indicates that just as we continue to refine and develop our efforts in research and teaching, so can we refine … how we function as a community according to humanistic values,” Gee said.

On the horizon for Vanderbilt are new capital projects, including a major overhaul of the Central Library. “This is a crucial action,” said Gee. “The life of our students as researchers is nurtured in our libraries. Our Central Library needs to be as or more important than a student center to them. We will continue to design and build all our spaces according to our one-university strategy.”

The assembly began with a brief discussion by Keivan Stassun, assistant professor of astronomy, titled “A Star is Born! But How was it Made?” Gee began his address by recognizing faculty who have served at the university for 25 years, and the presentation of a series of faculty awards, assisted by Faculty Senate Vice Chair Norman Tolk.

To read the full text of Gee’s address, visit

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