Skip to main content

Chapter 1: About Vanderbilt University

A: History

Vanderbilt University is an independent, privately-supported University founded in 1873 through a gift from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Born of modest means and not formally educated, the Commodore, a nickname Vanderbilt received in his youth, built a fortune from steamboat lines and railroads. The endowment of the University was his only major philanthropy, and his hope was that Vanderbilt would “contribute to strengthening the ties that should exist between all geographical sections of our common country.”

Bishop Holland N. McTyeire, whose wife was a cousin of Vanderbilt’s second wife, Frank Armstrong Crawford, was leading a movement within the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to establish “an institution of learning of the highest order.” In 1872, a charter was issued to petitioners representing nine Methodist conferences located in the mid-South for “Central University” in Nashville. However, their efforts failed for lack of financial resources in a region so recently ruined by the Civil War. In early 1873, Bishop McTyeire traveled to New York to seek medical care, and the Vanderbilts offered their hospitality for his convalescence. Prior to the trip, the Bishop had reportedly discussed the possibility of gaining financial support from the Commodore in letters to his wife, Frank Armstrong Crawford. She is credited for laying the groundwork for the gift. During his stay in New York, Bishop McTyeire was able to gain the admiration and financial support of the Commodore in the amount of $500,000 to found the University. Himself unschooled, Vanderbilt once said, “Though I never had any education, no man has ever felt the lack more than I have, and no man appreciates the value of it more than I do and believes more than I do what it will do in the future.” Soon after the University opened, Vanderbilt sent another $500,000 for its endowment.

Commodore Vanderbilt, who never visited Nashville himself, entrusted Bishop McTyeire to choose the site for the campus and administer the institution. At that time, Nashville had a population of 40,000, and the campus was partially covered with cornfield with a few residences scattered on the site. The Bishop himself planted young trees over the original seventy-five acre campus and supervised the planning and construction of the buildings. Vanderbilt University opened for classes in October of 1875 with 307 students enrolled. Since then, the University has grown to 333 acres with more than 12,000 students, and it has been designated a national arboretum-a legacy of Bishop McTyeire’s early efforts.

B: Colleges and Schools

Vanderbilt University comprises ten schools offering undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, education and human development, engineering, and music and a full range of graduate and professional degrees.

The College of Arts and Science, founded in 1875 as the Department of Philosophy, Science, and Literature, offers the Bachelor of Arts.

The Blair School of Music, originally established as an independent music school in the 1960s and merged with the University in 1981, offers the Bachelor of Music and the Bachelor of Musical Arts degrees.

The Divinity School, founded as one of the four original departments of the University in 1873 and known then as the biblical Department, operated under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, from its opening until May 1914. The Vanderbilt Board of Trust severed ties with the church in June 1914. The Board of Trust officially established the Divinity School as an ecumenical theological school with its own dean and faculty in 1915. The Divinity School offers the Doctor of Ministry, the Master of Theological Studies, the Master of Theology, and the Master of Divinity.

The School of Engineering, established as a full department in 1886, offers the Bachelor of Engineering, the Bachelor of Science, and the Master of Engineering.

The Graduate School, an early priority of the University which offered doctoral programs within the first ten years of its founding, was established as a separate school with its own dean in 1935. The Graduate School offers the Doctor of Philosophy, the Master of Arts, the Master of Fine Arts, the Master of Liberal Arts and Science, and the Master of Science.

The Law School, founded as one of the original departments of the University, offers the Doctor of Jurisprudence, the Master of Legal Studies, and the Master of Laws.

The School of Medicine, founded as one of the four original departments of the University in 1873, conferred its first diplomas in 1875 as part of an agreement with the University of Nashville Medical Department. Vanderbilt split ties with the University of Nashville in 1895, and finally moved to the main campus in 1925. The School of Medicine offers the Doctor of Medicine, the Doctor of Audiology, the Doctor of Medical Physics, the Master of Public Health, the Master of Science in Clinical Investigation, the Master of Genetic Counseling, the Master of Imaging Science, the Master of Education of the Deaf, the Master of Science of Medical Physics, the Master of Science (Speech Language Pathology), and the Master of Science in Applied Clinical Informatics.

The School of Nursing has a history dating back to 1909 and began offering the Master of Science in Nursing in 1955. The School of Nursing offers the Master of Science in Nursing, the Master of Nursing, and the Doctor of Nursing Practice.

The Owen Graduate School of Management was established as the Graduate School of Management in 1969 and renamed after Lulu Hampton Owen and alumnus Ralph Owen in 1977. The Owen School offers the Master of Business Administration, the Master of Science in Finance, the Master of Accountancy, the Master of Marketing, and the Master of Management in Health Care.

Peabody College of Education and Human Development was established as a college of the University in 1979 when the Vanderbilt Board of Trust approved a merger with Peabody College. Peabody College traces its history to Davidson Academy, organized in 1785, eleven years before the founding of the state of Tennessee. Peabody operated as an independent professional school of education from 1875 until its merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. The Peabody College of Education and Human Development offers the Bachelor of Science, the Doctor of Education, the Master of Education, and the Master of Public Policy.

C: Administration

Vanderbilt University is governed by a Board of Trust which appoints the Chancellor as the Chief Officer. The University’s other administrative officers serve at the pleasure of the Chancellor and include the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, the Vice Chancellor for Investments and Chief Investment Officer, the Vice Chancellor for Administration, the Vice Chancellor for Communications ¬†and Marketing, the Vice Chancellor for Finance, Information Technology and Chief Financial Officer, the Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Relations, the Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletics Director, the Vice Chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations, and the Vice Chancellor, General Counsel and Secretary.

Each of the schools of the University, with the exception of the School of Medicine, is led by a dean who reports to the Provost. The Dean of the School of Medicine reports to the Chancellor, while the Dean of Basic Sciences, within the School of Medicine, reports to the Provost.

D: Academic Affiliation between Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) became separate non-profit entities in 2016. They operate under an Academic Affiliation Agreement to support one another and fulfill their related missions. As part of this agreement, based on their roles and appointments, faculty may be employed by Vanderbilt University Medical Center. These faculty continue to have their faculty appointments with Vanderbilt University and are covered by the Vanderbilt University Faculty Manual. Such faculty render services to, and are responsible to, both Vanderbilt University and the (VUMC).

E: Accreditation and Affiliations

Information about institutional accreditation, programmatic accreditation, and a list of institutional affiliations may be viewed on the webpage of the Office of Academic Program Review, Assessment, and Accreditation.