Sept. 23 – Staying Strong
Dear faculty colleagues,
As hard as it is to believe, we are already one-third of the way through our fall semester. We have made it this far thanks to your flexibility and adaptability and the sheer hard work you have contributed during the past six months of this pandemic. You, the faculty of this great university, have been critical to our successful efforts to date in creating a robust model of on-campus and remote academic activity.
We know this has not been easy for you. Whether on campus or working remotely, you are focused on mitigating the impacts on your scholarship of reduced research space capacity, travel and/or resource access. You’ve had to adapt to multiple teaching platforms while adhering to an entirely new set of safety protocols for classrooms, labs, studios, performance spaces, dining areas, offices and more. Many of you also have experienced disruptions at home, whether trying to care for a child or other family members, or perhaps a faraway relative.
We are making progress and your efforts are working. Since students arrived on campus in August, the positivity rate for testing among those in our community who are engaged in on-campus activities has been dropping—measuring 0.31 percent last week—and, to date, there are no cases of classroom or research space transmission. The Return to Campus Plan allows us to hold firmly to our scholarly mission of empowering future leaders and making breakthrough scientific discoveries, perspective-changing works of art and profound insights that help shape our respective disciplines and society as a whole.
As we visit classrooms and campus spaces or receive notes of gratitude from students and their families, we see the positive impact your commitment has had across campus, and indeed in remote corners of the world. The best way that we, collectively, can continue to make positive impacts on the challenges facing our society is to continue, and support further, the pursuit of our education, research and service missions.
Given the adaptability our community is showing in adopting the COVID-19 protective protocols, we are optimistic about the rest of the semester and continuing academic year. Together, we will stay strong.
But we are not content simply to stay the course. We want to get stronger. We are committed to finding ways to help support your teaching and scholarship and to advance the overall future of the faculty. Based on collaborative work with the deans, we are launching two new initiatives directed at the future—your future work during this semester and over the next semester and next year, and your future faculty colleagues. Both of these initiatives, as well as other ongoing efforts, will require resources. Thanks to careful stewardship, our financial position remains stable and secure. In a time such as this, we need to prioritize investments in our people and in new faculty hires for the future.
First, to support your professional needs, we will be directing the provost’s internal funding mechanisms for the remainder of this fiscal year and through the next toward a new, single, streamlined grant mechanism. We’re calling this the Vanderbilt Strong Grant Program—designed to provide additional support for faculty efforts that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds can help support your teaching, research and scholarship. More information on this program will be shared next week.
Furthermore, based on Vanderbilt’s strong financial performance in prior fiscal years, we see a potentially historic opportunity to expand our faculty in key strategic areas that build further excellence. We have saved start-up funding for an expanded set of faculty hires and can also adjust priorities temporarily to provide for the additional faculty lines. During a time when many of our peers are pulling back, we want to seize the opportunity to recruit leading scholars or rising stars to join you as faculty colleagues. We also see this as a key way to accelerate and broadly build on our inclusive excellence strategies across the schools and colleges.
To that end, Vanderbilt is launching a $100 million faculty hiring initiative that will allow us to recruit approximately 60 new faculty members of distinction in their fields. Named “Destination Vanderbilt,” this initiative supports new faculty hiring, which will aim to represent a 50 percent increase over our normal hiring rate and will be in addition to existing faculty hiring plans. We will be working with the deans and departments to authorize these searches to launch and recruit new faculty who will arrive in fiscal years 2022, 2023 and 2024.
We are making these investments now, at a pivotal time for leading research universities and higher education, because we recognize we must act today to prepare our university to not only navigate the current challenges successfully, but also to be in a position to lead in the changed landscape to come. Bringing new faculty together with each of you will dramatically strengthen our overall faculty’s collective force and our inclusive excellence and will spark additional trans-institutional innovation and discovery that will make Vanderbilt the destination for the next generation of leaders.
Thank you for your collegiality, your dedication and your steadfast support of our mission and values, and thank you for everything you are doing to make this excellent start to this semester possible. Together, we stay strong—and, together, we can get this done.
Susan R. Wente
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs