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Welcome to the 2009-2010 Academic Year

Posted Monday, August 24, 2009.

To Members of the Vanderbilt University Community:

The unusual chill in the August air is a comforting signal that the academic year is beginning. Our great university hardly lies dormant over the summer. Caring for patients, discovery and research, and classes all continue year round, keeping busy dedicated staff and faculty and students. But by any measure our year begins with the return of our students, best seen in the emotional, physical, and logistical energy exerted as our freshmen move into The Commons and are welcomed into our community. Whether you are joining Vanderbilt as a freshman – or you are a faculty or staff member celebrating decades of service to this great university community – the start of the academic year brings a special spark and a spirit of great hope and enthusiasm. I want to thank you for being such an important part of our community and welcome you.

As we begin the 2009-2010 academic year, my 23rd at Vanderbilt, I want you to know of my excitement about the upcoming year, and my confidence in our bright future. All indicators of our intellectual and academic progress and health are strong. We welcome, across the entire campus, students of exceptional academic ability with great potential to learn and to make a difference through our devotion to teaching and research. Our freshman class is special in every way, and our commitment to eliminate debt for our undergraduates has opened the doors of our great university to those with remarkable talents. Over the summer, many of us attended Vanderbilt events for incoming and current students and their families. I cannot count the number of families and students who thanked us for this investment in the American dream. Their message was clear: without this support these youngsters could not have attended Vanderbilt. Our faculty continue to show exceptional devotion to their fields and garner prizes, fellowships, and awards in every area of inquiry. Funding agencies, particularly at the federal level and because of a renewed national commitment to research, generously support our cutting-edge research. These are times of great challenge, but Vanderbilt is continuing its extraordinary progress among the nation’s and the world’s truly distinguished universities.

The prior year was one of enormous financial challenges and stresses, unprecedented for the global, and our nation’s, economy, and certainly for America’s distinguished universities. I am very proud of how we managed through this and bound together as a community to meet our mission, preserve the strength of our university, and care for those most vulnerable. Sacrifices were made by many, and we were able to greatly strengthen our balance sheet and further our goals of learning, research, and discovery. My words cannot possibly capture the deep gratitude I feel for all that you have done. I hope that as you go about the campus in the first few days, feeling the excitement of a new year, and witnessing the remarkable work, you feel proud and fulfilled at what your sacrifices have preserved and furthered.

I am asked regularly, “When will things return to ‘normal’?” My responses are several, beginning with a cautionary comment about what is meant by “normal” and believing that adjustments will continue from the economy of years past. Beyond that, as we all know, our nation continues to face significant fiscal and economic challenges, represented by many statistics, including unemployment rates and the federal deficit. And we should all be skeptical of those who declare “the worst is over” or “we have hit the bottom of our financial cycle.” My view is simple: if the experts didn’t get the “top” right, they surely won’t get the “bottom” right either.

Yet despite this uncertainty, of one thing I am confident. Through hard work, enthusiasm for our mission, your collective efforts, and many sacrifices, Vanderbilt is poised to make great progress. Our prudent steps from last year and your willingness to lead by example position us well to make strategic investments. Indeed, we closed the year with very strong performances in our operating budgets, endowment, and philanthropy. We must always make wise and prudent choices, care for those who are most vulnerable, and like any household and family in times of financial uncertainty, we must assure that our savings are adequate and meet our needs across the entire university. The year ahead will present challenges, but after last year we are a stronger university. As we enter 2009-2010, I have an even greater sense of hope and optimism about what can be achieved together.

Thank you.