A message from Chancellor Zeppos on the state of the university

Dear Vanderbilt community,

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (Vanderbilt)
Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (Vanderbilt)

The beginning of a new academic year provides a university community with the opportunity to both reflect on the previous year and look forward, focusing intently on the future. We do so with a great sense of optimism and enthusiasm. While there will certainly be challenges on the horizon, our hard work and careful stewardship have positioned Vanderbilt well and give us great confidence to navigate the road ahead.

Looking back to fiscal year 2012, we are very pleased with our results and progress in all areas. When measured against the external global and political environment, we are even more pleased.

Thanks to responsible management of our resources, we completed the year with a positive return on our operating budget, enabling the university to invest in our mission through faculty recruitment, buildings and grounds such as the new College Halls at Kissam, the renovation of Alumni Hall, expansion of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and enhancements to athletic facilities.

As we have made these significant investments, our AA rating has been affirmed, signaling that we are growing responsibly, in line with our mission and our means. Academic achievements, breakthroughs in research, and patient care are core to our mission, but without a strong financial foundation, we simply cannot meet the very high bar that we set for ourselves.

Balance and investment
Looking at the year ahead, I think about Vanderbilt’s unique commitment to balance and how our ability to identify new possibilities distinguishes us from our peers. Members of our faculty are teachers and researchers. Our students are bright and social. We excel in academics and athletics. We make groundbreaking discoveries and translate them to real-world application. We demand excellence and represent access, which I believe is at the core of the American dream.

For too many families, the rising rate of tuition is a barrier to the pursuit of the American dream through a college education. Since talent and promise recognize no social, cultural, economic or geographic boundaries, Vanderbilt’s admissions process is need-blind. In addition, Vanderbilt will meet 100 percent of a family’s demonstrated financial need with gifts and no loans – Vanderbilt is one of only a handful of institutions that can make this statement. This, coupled with a tuition increase (1.9 percent) that is Vanderbilt’s lowest in more than 25 years and the lowest among all of our peers, is testament to our commitment to access.

We are investing in the student experience by extending the College Halls experience to upperclass students through the residential colleges at Kissam and a renovation of Alumni Hall. We are investing in innovations in science, engineering and the performing and studio arts. We are investing in faculty chairs to support the recruitment and retention of the best teacher-researchers. We are investing in the people and technology necessary to revolutionize personalized health care. These investments collectively burnish our reputation as a place of balance, strengthened by our values of friendship, community and civility.

We simply could not make these investments without the generous support of Vanderbilt alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends who last year gave more than $128 million, a 3 percent increase over the previous year, in support of our key priorities. It is this philanthropy that helps fuel the margin of excellence that Vanderbilt is known for, and we are honored to partner with so many generous supporters. The impact of your investments is clear.

Impact and momentum
All of these investments have generated a great sense of excitement about Vanderbilt, which is demonstrated in many ways. Applications for the Class of 2016 were up 14 percent over last year, reaching an all-time high of 28,347, a 119 percent increase over the past six years. Similarly, this past year we had our 10th consecutive record year for the number of graduate applications. Each of our students has earned his or her place at Vanderbilt, competing with more students than ever for the opportunity to be a member of this community.

There is a palpable sense of energy among our students, and, in a spring 2012 survey, 96.6 percent of undergraduates expressed their satisfaction with teaching quality at Vanderbilt. As testament to the deep affection and satisfaction our graduating seniors hold for Vanderbilt, the number of seniors who made a gift to Vanderbilt doubled over the previous year, setting a mark that the Class of 2013 has accepted as a challenge as they stand on the shoulders of those who came before them to reach even higher.

Similarly, the number of alumni who made a gift this past year increased 7.4 percent over the previous year, supporting all areas of Vanderbilt from scholarships and the undergraduate experience to faculty and patient care.

Vanderbilt faculty are leaders in their disciplines and retain a commitment to excellent teaching in a small class “liberal arts” setting while earning recognition for their world-class research. For example, John Gore (Engineering, Radiology and Physics), Larry Bartels (Political Science) and Randolph Blake (Psychology) were elected to the National Academies of Sciences, and Colin Dayan (English) and Christopher Loss (Education) were elected fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This past fiscal year we secured $557 million in research funding, an increase of 5.4 percent over last year, driving Vanderbilt’s placement in the top 10 in National Institutes of Health research among all universities and colleges.

Support for our outstanding student-athletes has never been stronger. We saw remarkable crowds in Memorial Gym cheering on Commodore basketball teams. On Thursday, football season begins with Vanderbilt playing South Carolina at Dudley Field in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN. We are crafting a new model of college athletics at the highest level.

Hope and optimism
The year ahead will be exciting and full of opportunities and challenges. Lives will be changed for the better, discoveries will be made and human potential will be nurtured like nowhere else. The new College Halls at Kissam will be casting shadows as the gothic towers go up. A second consecutive bowl game is within our football team’s reach. We are pushing the boundaries of teaching and learning, staying true to our mission while seizing opportunities for meaningful innovation.

Our plans are bold, and the environment around us is often uncertain, but I find myself filled with hope as I consider Vanderbilt’s future. Hope based on our strong financial position. Hope based on our tradition of excellence in teaching, research and patient care. Hope based on the passion, care and optimism I see in the faces of each student, parent, patient and member of the community who comes to Vanderbilt in search of a better tomorrow.

Having just celebrated my 25th year at Vanderbilt, I believe more passionately than ever that the future of higher education, our great nation and humankind rests strongly and responsibly with the great research universities like Vanderbilt. Thank you for your investment, your involvement and your support of Vanderbilt’s mission.

Nicholas S. Zeppos