What’s On My Mind: A focus on the faculty

Faculty members are inherently optimists. They believe there are always better answers out there, more ways to explain the world around us, more solutions to the problems of our society. They put their efforts and energy into that work, and Vanderbilt provides a place where their inquiry and discovery can flourish. A university is built on a foundation of research, scholarship and service; to do each of those successfully, we must create an environment in which the faculty can thrive.

As Vanderbilt faculty members dedicate themselves to inquiry and discovery, we similarly dedicate resources to allow them to infuse that work with as much support as possible. Earlier this fall, we launched the Faculty Fellowship Challenge, a $25 million fundraising effort, which Vanderbilt will match, to support the creation of new fellowships and directorships for the next generation of transformational professors.

As always, the Vanderbilt community is rising to the occasion. Last week, we announced the first new positions created through the Faculty Fellowship Challenge: the Greg S. Allen Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow in Philosophy, the Greg S. Allen Dean’s Faculty Fellow in Philosophy, and the Sauereisen Director of the Undergraduate Business Minor Program. Elizabeth Sauereisen Allen, BS’83, and Vanderbilt Board of Trust member Greg Allen, BA’84, were inspired to donate the funds by their experiences with the faculty during their nearly 40 years of affiliation with the university.

Our university has a long history of attracting faculty members who cultivate lifelong connections with their students, like the Allens, both inside and outside of the classroom. I am especially proud of the way that Vanderbilt’s faculty members combine research, publishing, teaching and developing a genuine rapport with their students. We even have faculty members who have chosen to live and learn alongside students in our residential colleges.

It’s my job as chancellor, along with Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente, our deans and the rest of university leadership, to develop strategies and secure resources that support the faculty in their pursuit of excellence in research, teaching and publishing. The Academic Strategic Plan weaves faculty development into each of its initiatives. Provost Wente and Dean of the College of Arts and Science John Geer worked with faculty members and leaders from across the university to ensure that the plan puts all of our faculty on a path toward discovery and success. The Chancellor’s Faculty Fellows, the Provost’s Initiatives to Enhance Research and Scholarship (PIERS), University Courses, and the Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs) initiative all emerged from the Academic Strategic Plan. The Graduate School, through the Academic Pathways Postdoctoral Fellowship and other initiatives, is leading efforts to develop a new generation of faculty that is more reflective of the diversity of our community. These are just a few of the many ways that Vanderbilt is committed to supporting faculty, for both the benefit of their careers and to further the core mission of the university.

And the imprint of the faculty certainly isn’t limited to our campus community. They also inform a much larger audience. In the past year, Vanderbilt faculty were quoted or mentioned in over 50,000 media stories. John Geer was a familiar voice in national and local news leading up to the mid-term elections. Suzana Herculano-Houzel, associate professor of psychology and biological sciences, was featured in national news outlets earlier this year for her research on a divisive debate: are dogs smarter than cats? William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine, is the go-to expert on flu outbreaks. Our faculty are considered experts in the world around us. They are critical and trusted stewards of information. The Chancellor’s Public Voices Fellowship provides development for faculty members who will continue to grow Vanderbilt’s reputation as a home to trusted experts and reliable information.

I came to Vanderbilt as a faculty member in 1987. Nearly every day of the past 31 years, my fellow faculty have taught me, challenged me, collaborated with me and impressed me. They contribute to every part of the core work of our university, and they do that with unflinching dedication. Vanderbilt will always work to reward that dedication and invest in their careers because the future success of our faculty is inextricably linked to the future success of our university.