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A note to faculty regarding graduate education

Posted Friday, January 22, 2010.

Dear Colleagues:

Our nation and globe remain in economic distress, either in what is becoming known as the “Great Recession” or at least in the echo of last year’s financial panic. Challenges and uncertainty remain. At the same time, I am proud of how Vanderbilt has fared and am eager to share my deep gratitude for the patience, sacrifice, and focus on mission that our community exhibits every day. Because of the choices we have made, we are now able to move forward with some exciting and necessary academic investments.

I write to you about an important part of our mission, graduate education. The past ten years have been marked by incredible progress. We all know that at the core of graduate education – indeed education at any level – is an outstanding faculty. Clearly, over the past ten years, the academic and intellectual distinction, productivity, diversity, and visibility of our faculty have all risen at a dramatic pace. New and innovative trans-institutional programs have proven to be attractive for the very best professors in every discipline. I am confident that with the success of our Shape the Future capital campaign and our prudence and focus, we will continue to invest significantly to support and celebrate our outstanding faculty.

We now need to turn to a critical area for investment in graduate education and particularly in our graduate students. The Ph.D. is the highest academic degree offered by Vanderbilt and the other great American universities. These are the future professors, scientists, researchers, teachers, and policy makers that will build our nation and heal our globe. As with our undergraduates, we must devote ourselves and our resources to attracting the very best and inviting them to be part of our academic community. In this effort, we must be guided by the excellent report recently issued by our faculty, and the dialogue and discussions undertaken in the Faculty Senate, school faculty meetings, and town halls over the past six months.

Provost and Vice Chancellor Richard McCarty and Vice Chancellor and Dean Jeff Balser will soon provide more detailed information working closely with the deans, faculty, and students. These efforts will be developed to meet the unique needs of the biomedical sciences and our broad graduate education programs in the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, and engineering. However, I do want to describe briefly these new investments in our students. First, we must be competitive and supportive in recruiting outstanding graduate students. We will increase graduate scholarship awards and insure competitive stipends, and will also increase funding for recruiting and travel for prospective students. We know that for all students a visit to meet our outstanding faculty, to enjoy our beautiful campus, and to experience the great quality of life in Nashville are all significant positive factors in decisions made. Finally, expanding support for recruiting and supporting the very best international graduate student candidates will be a new priority.

Along with this additional significant funding for our graduate students, we will also increase our funding for the faculty’s innovation in programs and graduate education. Our earlier round of Enhancing Graduate Education (EGE) awards and investments in the Biomedical Research and Training Office (BRET) produced lasting and significant advances. We will thus start a new round of grants for innovative transformative proposals in the EGE, and will be making renewed investments in support of BRET and faculty activities supporting the entire spectrum of the graduate education experience.

Finally, we will increase our funding for innovative discovery. There will be increased funding for two already established programs – the Discovery Grants program and the Research Scholar grants program. These funds are devoted respectively to science and engineering, and to humanities and social sciences, and have supported new and exciting graduate education and research programs of our faculty. We will also launch a new initiative aimed at rapid allocation of pilot funds for seeding new biomedical research directions that support faculty engaged in mentoring graduate students. Increased investment in you and your ideas is essential to the progress we must continue to make in graduate education.

I am pleased to provide direct financial support for these initiatives, which will go into effect immediately. Another priority remains, however, and that is securing a permanent dedicated endowment of meaningful size to support graduate education. I am optimistic that progress on this front is within our reach. I will be working closely with the Vice Chancellors and Deans, as well as with the Board of Trust, to realize significant strides in this area as well. I look forward to keeping you informed as this effort gains traction.

We are pleased and excited about these new and exciting investments in graduate education. None of this would be possible without the hard work, high aspirations, and dedication of you, our faculty. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Nicholas S. Zeppos
Chancellor