A message from Chancellor Zeppos about the 2016-17 academic year


Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (Vanderbilt University)

We begin the 2016-17 academic year with a great sense of energy and optimism. Welcoming the Class of 2020 into Vanderbilt’s special academic community is a timely reminder that the next decade is on the near horizon. Undergraduate applications reached a record high, and from this extraordinary group of talented scholars, we welcome the most academically prepared and diverse freshman class in Vanderbilt’s history. Our future and our vision are bound up in the hopes and dreams of all of our students, and it is an honor to be entrusted with the education and preparation of our society’s up-and-coming leaders.

Measured in a number of ways, Vanderbilt is unique in the role it plays in shaping our world. We are pleased to finish Fiscal Year 2016 with strong financial results, increases in research funding, record fundraising, and all-time-high giving from the Class of 2016.

In April 2016, the transition of Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) into legally separate institutions was completed. While we will continue to collaborate through education and research and drive innovation through discovery science, this successful restructuring allows VUMC the fluidity needed to flourish in the highly competitive health care environment. And the university’s recent S&P credit upgrade to “positive” strengthens its ability to carry out its noble mission and continue its ascent.

Against the backdrop of Opportunity Vanderbilt, our university has become a national leader in access and affordability. Through institutional and structural changes, substantial investments, and new measures of accountability, we are moving Vanderbilt forward on a path of increased diversity and inclusion.

We are deeply committed to creating an inclusive and welcoming campus culture that facilitates learning across a broad base of disciplines. Interweaving methods and perspectives in ways that bring students, faculty and staff together, members of our special academic community work collaboratively to find solutions to the complex problems that face our world. Our commitment of advancing equity, diversity and inclusion stands among our top priorities for this year and for many to come. To achieve this dream, we must dedicate ourselves to lasting, systemic changes and to cultivating a campus environment that recognizes and respects all.

Fueled by the unique investments of the cultural and human capital of our students, faculty and staff, Vanderbilt’s greatness is defined by our people. Our most profound advances in discovery and learning will manifest in direct proportion with our appreciation and willingness to embrace a diverse range of perspectives. This will best be achieved when, for each and every one of us, our campus feels like a welcoming and supportive home. Its symbols and revered spaces must align with our values in order to further our ideals.

The recent changes to Memorial Hall represent a significant step in this direction. There remains much work ahead. Yet, with our shared commitment to our broad and inclusive strategic planning process on diversity, inclusion and community, we set our sights to think boldly and creatively of the rich and meaningful potential that we can realize when everyone has opportunities to contribute and engage at their highest capacity.

The Committee for Diversity, Inclusivity and Community has invested countless hours into gaining greater insight into the closely held thoughts, perceptions and projections that comprise our present culture. From our founder Cornelius Vanderbilt’s charge to strengthen the ties of our country torn apart by war and promote healing through education — to the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s — we have crossed many thresholds. In surveying best practices from other universities and brainstorming new innovative approaches, this committee is helping us step forward to dialogue in a public way on issues that some consider uncomfortable, but which are vital to knock down barriers that impede our ability to create a better university.

The committee’s work resulted in a thorough, thoughtful and detailed report. I urge you to visit the new Inclusion at Vanderbilt webpage to read the report and explore all that we are doing to ensure our campus promotes and advances inclusive excellence.

To best support our ever-evolving student body, the Dean of Students office just announced a further revamping and expansion of services, including the establishment of the Office of Social Justice and Identity. The recruitment of 38 new tenure-track faculty members — with 70 percent bringing diverse perspectives to their respective departments — reflects the positive action we are taking. And we can all take great pride in what we are accomplishing.

In recognition of our staff members and their tireless work to make our university the amazing place that it is, we raised Vanderbilt’s minimum wage. During the upcoming Fall Faculty Assembly, we will award the first Chancellor’s Research Awards for excellence in research, scholarship or creative expression that advances our understanding of equity, diversity and inclusion.

Work and devotion provide hope and a foundation for the bold steps we need to take to achieve our shared goals. As we begin the 2016-17 academic year, I encourage every member of our community to visit the Compliance Program website. An understanding and appreciation of these standards of conduct strengthen our steadfast commitment to adhering to the high ethical values that guide our journey on this path.

The year ahead holds incredible promise. The new Engineering and Science Building opens this month, providing a home that will take innovative interdisciplinary research to new heights. The work taking place in this state-of-the-art building, and the 13 cross-disciplinary projects chosen for year two of our Trans-institutional Programs, are prime examples of the many ways that we are using discovery as a pathway for Vanderbilt students to immerse in highly creative learning experiences.

The groundwork for the next phase of the College Halls at Vanderbilt residential colleges plan is well underway, and Vanderbilt Barnard College will expand our special living-learning environment in the near future. We will also move forward with discussions and planning for key financial and infrastructure investments in graduate education and research. In fact, a focused study on campus housing and fostering a greater sense of community on campus for our graduate and professional students is a major focus of our Campus Land Use Initiative.

It is my privilege to serve as your chancellor and walk alongside you as we embark on a new academic year and celebrate our progress in moving toward and manifesting our dreams for a more just and perfect world.


Nicholas S. Zeppos