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New Academic Strategic Plan charts course for Vanderbilt’s future

Aug. 22, 2014, 9:56 AM

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos officially unveiled Vanderbilt's Academic Strategic Plan at the Fall Faculty Assembly Aug. 21. (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)
Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos officially unveiled Vanderbilt's Academic Strategic Plan at the Fall Faculty Assembly Aug. 21. (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

Vanderbilt’s Academic Strategic Plan, which will guide university investments in faculty recruitment, capital planning, academic programs and philanthropic priorities over the next 10 years, was officially unveiled by Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos Aug. 21 at the Fall Faculty Assembly.

“I asked that this process be faculty driven, transparent, inclusive and completed in one year, and my confidence in you could not have been better repaid than by your enthusiastic embrace of the process and the draft plan produced,” Zeppos said. “Our challenges are clear, but the year ahead will be one of new initiatives and bold steps taken.“

More than 600 faculty members participated in the planning process.

“The benefits of a campus-wide approach were apparent from the start, and the range of perspectives gave rise to a rich variety of innovative recommendations,” said Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan Wente, who co-chaired the strategic planning process with John Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science. “The resulting plan is aspirational—it outlines the university’s vision for its future ambitions over the next 10 years.”

The plan focuses on “improving the human condition through excellence in teaching, research and patient care” and is built on four intersecting themes:

  • Offering students a diverse intellectual community focused on the whole person and lifelong learning;
  • Investing in multi- and interdisciplinary programs to lead in solutions for problems facing society;
  • Building distinguished programs that offer innovative, effective solutions to pressing health and health care problems; and
  • Transforming education models through technology and research.

“We started with the strength of ‘One Vanderbilt’—10 outstanding schools and colleges all connected by a compact central campus—in one of the most dynamic cities in the country,” Geer said. “This unique constellation of assets fuels our ambitions and our continuing rise as one of the world’s great research and teaching universities.”

Each theme is supported by specific initiatives; each will require strategic investments and in many cases new funding.

“These initiatives come at a cost,” Wente said. “We will support them through continued careful budgeting and will also be seeking additional resources to fully realize our ambitions.”

The first theme calls for students to be immersed in a diverse, residential, educational community. Initiatives supporting this theme include the endowment of Opportunity Vanderbilt, which replaces all need-based undergraduate student loans with scholarships and grant assistance, and a new program, Immersion Vanderbilt, through which every undergraduate will engage in a creative, independent project.

A new Trans-institutional Programs (TIPs) Council comprising faculty will be launched this fall in support of the second theme. The council will develop and apply criteria for guiding investments in trans-institutional research, with seed money available to start and sustain projects.

“As a university focused on cures and translational work of the highest order, we are in a privileged position to understand the essential importance of basic research,” Zeppos said. “In this spirit, our strategic plan endorses the targeting of new trans-institutional programs—emerging areas of fundamental science where Vanderbilt can lead in research—as well as continued growth and funding for areas where we are already best in class.”

The health care theme includes developing and implementing multidisciplinary solutions impacting health, disease prevention, health care services, health care delivery and training. Making Vanderbilt a national “hub” for identifying solutions to health care issues is a part of this effort.

“I continue to hold steadfast the belief that at Vanderbilt, we are best positioned to create solutions to the problems our nation is facing as it undergoes … seismic changes in health care,” Zeppos said. “I continue to have great faith in the idea that Vanderbilt physicians, nurses, faculty, staff and students will be at the forefront of developing the more efficient, equitable and progressive health care system that America deserves.”

Conducting cutting-edge research to determine the effectiveness of new education technologies that foster innovation in learning, teaching and discovery is identified as an initiative under the fourth theme.

Wente pointed out that there is significant, deliberate overlap among the themes. “Graduate and professional education, although not formal themes, are threads that are woven through the entire plan,” she said. “The same is true for Vanderbilt’s global education and reach.”

Implementation will begin this semester and include working groups on graduate education and Immersion Vanderbilt.

“We will continue to engage in dialogue and debate the plan. But now is the time to begin to act. Our mission is too important, our ambitions too bold, and our momentum too strong to wait,” Zeppos said.

Visit the Academic Strategic Plan website to download the plan and learn more about the process.

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