What’s On My Mind: The progress ahead of us

"What's On My Mind" illustration of Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos

Back in 2007, when I was Vanderbilt’s provost, I took a vacation to North Carolina that included a visit with our board chair, Martha Ingram. I arrived knowing that my predecessor, Gordon Gee, had just resigned from his post as chancellor of Vanderbilt; by the time the trip was over, I was told I was likely to be named the interim. As I said to Lydia, “I left for vacation as provost, and I returned preparing to be interim chancellor.”

The trip was, in itself, a pure encapsulation of transition: a reminder of the speed and the swiftness with which great change can occur. For a moment, it felt as though there was a weighty transition on the horizon. But then I took a step back to remember something that still resonates today: Vanderbilt has existed, and it has flourished, for nearly 150 years. Our university is deeply anchored by a foundation strong enough to carry us through any shift in leadership, any force of change.

My transition from provost to interim chancellor was quick, and it took some recalibrating for me and others, but during that transition, Vanderbilt continued to function at full capacity. We had complex, visionary projects in place, and they all kept going. Classes and student life continued as usual. Nothing stopped in its tracks, except perhaps me for a moment! With the support of countless people on our campus, I was able to not only keep Vanderbilt moving, but also to make great progress in executing our strategic plan.

Fast forward 12 years, and Susan R. Wente is in a similar position. Like myself when I was appointed interim chancellor, Susan is our provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs. Also like myself, she is immersed in—and committed to—the full breadth of exciting projects and initiatives on the horizon.

She is knee-deep in our process of shared governance and strategic planning, much of which is fueled by the Academic Strategic Plan, which she spearheaded in 2014. Her leadership on the Academic Strategic Plan has also guided our FutureVU campus planning strategies. From the development of Vanderbilt’s graduate and professional student village—which will enrich the living-learning experience for our dynamic and growing community of graduate students—to the exciting strides in capital development for the Arts and Science historic core, to the residential colleges growing steadily on West End avenue, Susan has the insight, the background and the vision to sustain our great momentum.

And yet, it takes more than one person to see through any achievement of this magnitude and scale. It takes an entire community of strategists and experts; it takes the insight and opinions of our faculty, students and staff; it takes support from our alumni; it takes a thoughtful intermixing of institutional knowledge and fresh perspectives. Our university’s successes are the result of a solid and far-reaching foundation, much like the one that I had in 2007. I could not have done it on my own.

With the Vanderbilt community at her side, Susan is uniquely equipped to ensure our progress ahead. Given her willingness and success in serving our university as provost, it is no surprise that the Board of Trust has turned to her to serve as the interim chancellor when my term ends on August 15.

I am not sure what the future holds for Vanderbilt, but I know it will be bright. Our institution is more than a group of leaders—however impactful they may be. Our success is the product of us all working together, staying focused on the long view, streamlining and supporting any change that comes our way.

With a collaborative mindset, the long view in mind and great leaders at the helm, Vanderbilt will continue to flourish. Change is inevitable, sure, but—as far as I can see—progress is, too.