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Universities should lead in developing solutions to global challenges, chancellor says

Nov. 18, 2015, 10:13 AM

Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos participated in the panel discussion “Envisioning the Engines for Megacities” at the annual Global Action Summit held in Nashville Nov. 16. (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Universities should be leaders in developing innovative solutions to the challenges facing our global society, Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said Nov. 16 at the annual Global Action Summit.

“Our mission is to serve humanity, and to do that, we have to look at the constellation of issues that face us today. All issues are our issues,” he said. “At Vanderbilt, we are the creators of new knowledge, not just in vaccines, but also in poetry. Vanderbilt wants to be a leader in helping create healthier, better, more livable cities. If we don’t do that, it won’t matter how many Nobel Prizes we win. We will have failed.”

His remarks were part of a panel discussion titled “Envisioning the Engines for Megacities” during the two-day summit at the Music City Center in Nashville. The world’s population is projected to reach 9 billion to 10 billion by 2030, with at least 60 percent of those people living in cities. The megacities panel, moderated by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, focused on how to prepare for the health and well-being of these large urban populations. In addition to the chancellor, the panel included experts in economic development, systems, urban development, commercial real estate and smart technology.

Zeppos used the comprehensive land-use planning currently underway on campus as an example of how thoughtful planning can drive innovative outcomes. “We didn’t start our discussion with the architects. We started with the humanities scholars,” he said. “We are looking at the core philosophic and humanistic values that we want. How do we take the principles of our academic strategic plan and manifest them in physical form? Should we coordinate this process with the city?”

Zeppos also mentioned the university’s commitment to environmentally responsible design and construction, including using LEED practices in building, renovation and retrofitting projects on campus, and the recent transition of the university’s power plant to natural gas. The conversion, which ended a 126-year reliance on coal, is expected to cut the power plant’s carbon footprint by 40 percent.

“If Vanderbilt was a business, I would have had to consider the return on investment and what that change would do to our earnings,” he said. “But I don’t have to live by that. I live by my students, and they said it had to come down.”

The summit gathered 400 senior business leaders, university leaders, research scientists, global agencies and NGO directors to discuss and take action on scalable, sustainable solutions and innovations to eliminate poverty and hunger and to provide a healthy life for the world’s population. Vanderbilt is one of the sponsors of the summit.

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