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A Message from Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente

Susan R. Wente, interim chancellor and provost (Vanderbilt University)

Dear Vanderbilt faculty,

When I spoke to you at the Fall Faculty Assembly in August, we could not have imagined the challenges that this year would ultimately deliver and we would frame perhaps our view of the entire academic year upon. In the span of just a short week in March: a devastating tornado would tear through our community on a terrible night that many of us will never forget, and a global pandemic would, at least for the near term, reshape our lives.

I want to thank you all for your cooperation, teamwork and understanding over the last several weeks. Thank you for going to such great lengths to take courses online, and to provide your students with substantive learning that is worthy of Vanderbilt, despite the cancellation of in-person classes. Protecting the health of our community will require long-term effort and commitment, and the coronavirus situation, as we have seen, changes rapidly. Your ability to quickly adapt and innovate has been so essential to Vanderbilt’s resilience and leadership as a resource and beacon for our community and our nation.

All of us have pulled together to do what Vanderbilt does best: collaborate, find solutions and move forward. The cooperation of our faculty is an especially distinguishing feature of our culture and gives us a strong and invaluable foundation for responding effectively and decisively in this moment of adversity. Again, thank you for making our continued success possible.

The fact that I am writing to you, rather than gathering with you last week for Spring Faculty Assembly, is just one small indication of how stemming the spread of the coronavirus requires all of us to adapt in unprecedented ways. As you know, our Spring Faculty Assembly has customarily been a time for us to celebrate the university’s progress over the past year. And although our attention is rightfully focused on the urgent matters before us, I believe it is especially important—now more than ever—to take a moment to reflect on all we have accomplished since we gathered for the fall faculty assembly in August.

As we begin to look back on this year, I want to leave you with one additional message. It has been my great honor to serve as your interim chancellor. Thank you for walking with me every step of the way, celebrating Vanderbilt’s successes and looking ahead during challenges that have faced our university and other higher education institutions.

I am committed, and know you will all join me, to continuing to look out for one another during the weeks ahead. We are dedicated and united in our efforts to move our university, nation and world forward—together.

Susan R. Wente
Interim Chancellor and Provost

Virtual Spring Faculty Assembly: A Reflection on 2019-20

The Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Looking back on 2019-20 at Vanderbilt, the dominant memory for most faculty will be the university’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. The ability of Vanderbilt’s faculty to quickly adapt and innovate has demonstrated Vanderbilt’s resilience, critical to our community at a time of upheaval and change.

Just in March 2020:

  • Faculty members took quick action to transition their courses to online and alternative learning.
    • In the College of Arts and Science alone, more than 600 courses transitioned from in-person to distance learning within a few days.
    • During the first half of March, more than 254,000 minutes of video were uploaded to Kaltura, a tool for uploading and creating video for online courses.
    • Vanderbilt Libraries tracked more than 100 individual interactions with faculty between March 1 and 17, with questions ranging from accessing streaming media for online classes, to sharing copyrighted materials online, to consulting with faculty on virtual options for research instruction.
    • More than 550 faculty members participated in the “Tools for Putting Your Teaching Online” sessions hosted by the Center for Teaching and the Office of Faculty Affairs.
  • Faculty used their knowledge and materials to support VUMC and others in the medical industry leading the fight against COVID-19.
  • Vanderbilt’s faculty were featured across the globe as experts on COVID-19 and society’s response to the virus, including:

Tucker Biddlecombe, associate professor of choral studies, teaches his choral class online with his students in his office at Blair School of Music. (Vanderbilt)
Tucker Biddlecombe, associate professor of choral studies, teaches his choral class online with his students in his office at Blair School of Music on March 18. (Vanderbilt)

All in all, the challenges of the last several weeks have not diminished Vanderbilt’s scholarship and momentum. We can proudly reflect on the many accomplishments collectively achieved by the university and the faculty.


Global Engagement

Throughout the academic year, the university engaged beyond the boundaries of the United States, both through programmatic efforts and conversations that attracted attention across the world. Vanderbilt’s presence on the global stage continues to grow, thanks to innovation, research and global expertise.

Chancellor’s Lecture Series moderator Ingrid Wuerth, the Helen Strong Curry Chair in International Law and director of the Cecil D. Branstetter Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program, Ambassador Susan Rice, Ambassador John Bolton and third-year law student and event moderator Hannah Miller. (Vanderbilt University)

Panelists William H. Robinson, interim vice provost for strategic initiatives, Rory Dicker, director of the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, and Derek M. Griffith, professor of medicine, health and society, at the Faculty Senate’s Community Conversation following the Terry Crews Chancellor’s Lecture Series event. (Vanderbilt University)

Elevating the Arts and Humanities

The arts and humanities play a role in nearly everything we do, strengthening our interconnectedness as scholars and as people. Just as art and the humanities can help us to understand other disciplines, fields like science and technology can, in turn, elevate our appreciation of the complexities in creative expression, culture, and society. At Vanderbilt, we are committed to finding new ways to connect our faculty to these important fields.

  • In the fall, we established the University Arts Council , which will advocate for the arts and related scholarship and encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations.
    • The council’s six subcommittees, made up of students, faculty, administrators and staff, are already exploring arts programming, the stewardship of our collections, our need for arts spaces, and are funding faculty projects and identifying arts organization partners nationally and regionally.

Members of the University Arts Council, University Art Collections Governance Subcommittee and Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery staff during a gallery tour. (Vanderbilt University)

A More Inclusive Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt recognizes that, to fulfill our mission, we must foster inclusion and belonging, and champion diverse perspectives. Since last fall, we have continued to make strides in our efforts to make our university truly vibrant and innovative, and to make every facet of our community inclusive.

Dorothy J. Wingfield Phillips, the first African American woman to earn an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt and the namesake of the Dorothy J. Wingfield Phillips Chancellor’s Faculty Fellowships, poses with friends and family at the Vanderbilt Trailblazers Portrait reception in October 2019. (Vanderbilt University)

Interim Chancellor Wente, vice chancellors, deans and other university leaders participated in an unconscious bias training in the fall. (Vanderbilt University)

Progress with FutureVU

Some of the most visible progress we’ve made this year is in our FutureVU initiatives —as evidenced by not only by all the trucks and cranes, but also by the expansion and renewal of many of our facilities. As most of our students, faculty and staff have left campus to practice social distancing and help slow the spread of COVID-19, we can appreciate what FutureVU contributes to our sense of connectivity even more.

  • Our new residential colleges continue to enhance the look and feel of our campus as they enrich the learning and lives of our students and faculty. What began as an audacious housing initiative is quickly becoming a vibrant and rooted Vanderbilt tradition that feels like it has always been integral to the campus— and our community is stronger for it.
  • We are continuing progress with construction along West End Avenue on the Nicholas S. Zeppos College . This spring, the university has taken a number of steps to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus among our construction teams, including working closely with our Capital Project contractors to implement additional health and safety protocols and provide guidance on minimizing risk of infection on our project sites.
  • The new Faculty Commons is under development in special building recently acquired by the university at 1101 19th Ave. S. The Commons will provide space for faculty to collaborate and socialize across disciplines and schools. The building will also be the new administrative home of the Faculty Senate and our new trans-institutional digital commons, which will include workspace for the Center for the Digital Humanities, among other groups that provide resources and support to faculty.
  • With broad-based input and vision, the Faculty Commons is one more way we’re fostering trans-institutional, cross-disciplinary connection and creativity among faculty and promoting the development of a single, collaborative academic community—One Vanderbilt.
  • Making Vanderbilt sustainable is part of our FutureVU effort as well. With the recognition that climate change is an urgent existential threat, we have advanced the effort we launched last year to be carbon neutral and power our campus exclusively with renewable energy by 2050.
  • In January, we announced a large-scale renewable energy agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Nashville Electric Service .
  • And in recent months we completed several important studies that will inform our long-term energy and carbon strategies.

Large scale renewable energy at Vanderbilt: 1st customer in the Tennessee Valley region; first to claim carbon neutrality and set a net zero/resilience goal; CO2 offset b 70%.

Listening and Feedback

All of the accomplishments Vanderbilt made in the 2019-20 academic year were carried out in partnership with the faculty. Your input, insights and expertise shape everything we do as a university. Your voice is critical to our work, and the university is committed to listening—and responding.

Faculty also play a critical role in the governance of our university and many of the decisions that affect our entire university community. You help to drive positive change at every level of our university.

Screenshot of COACHE survey action items report
The report on action items resulting from the 2016 COACHE faculty job satisfaction survey.

Trust, Transparency and Teamwork

Trust, transparency and teamwork remain constants at Vanderbilt, even during unprecedented times and in the face of change. These guiding principles are part of who we are and vital to our strength and progress, and they will serve us well in the coming months and years.

Campus aerial of Kirkland Hall during Fall.(John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

A Message from Faculty Senate Chair John McLean

Faculty Senate Chair John McLean (Vanderbilt University)

Dear faculty colleagues,

The end of this academic year looks far different than any of us could have expected. We are teaching from our homes, conducting research remotely and connecting with our colleagues virtually. For many of us, this period of transition has not been easy, and I understand that the silver linings have their match in persisting challenges as we continually to strive to make our wonderful institution even better.

At the same time, we are always moving forward. We are demonstrating our resilience and our creativity, adapting to new routines and making improvements together. I believe that your response to the changes of this academic year demonstrate exactly why we have become one of America’s leading research universities.

As I mentioned at the Fall Faculty Assembly, the Faculty Senate’s theme for this academic year has been community and civility. On one hand, this theme applies to our relationships with our fellow faculty. But it also reflects our broader engagement with the Vanderbilt community, from the Board of Trust to the staff members we work with every day. In some ways, these words—community and civility —also imply a physical togetherness and camaraderie that we have not been able to experience recently. However, they are still a driving force behind what we do, and they are more important than ever.

The two faculty assemblies we have each year—in the spring and the fall—are a chance to look at what we’ve achieved, and to think collectively about how to sustain the great momentum we have built. Although we are not able to meet in person for this year’s Spring Faculty Assembly, this does not diminish the many accomplishments listed throughout this page.

This includes the specific progress made this year by the Faculty Senate, such as:

  • Our partnering with the Chancellor Lecture Series to create Community Conversations to delve deeper into the issues our esteemed guests present by researchers across our university.
  • Developing an “I Am Vanderbilt” – Faculty Senate edition in partnership with the Division of Communications to recognize our staff colleagues that go above and beyond to fulfill our shared mission and values.
  • To demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that all cultures, backgrounds, and experiences are valued in our ever-changing diverse community, the Senate passed a resolution to ask all faculty leaders and the senate membership to participate in unconscious bias training.
  • Our guidance on updates to the student learning exchange, which is now known as Oracle Learning, which will help streamline faculty interactions with enrolled students and beyond.
  • We have developed more user-friendly process documents for the approvals of new academic programs and degrees to ensure faculty input across all colleges and schools.
  • Early discussions of possible changes to the Faculty Senate process—with the goal of being even more intentional about our rules and allowing more lead time for prospective changes to be considered, and which may also eventually motivate changes to the faculty manual.

In particular, I would like to thank our Faculty Senate Executive Committee for their vital support in making all of this happen, including Vice Chair Holly Algood (who would have emceed our in-person event), Chair-elect Catherine McTamaney, Vice Chair-elect Ben Harris, Past-Chair Victoria Greene and Past-Vice Chair Jeremy Wilson, along with Debbie Hayes, the administrative manager of the Faculty Senate, who is instrumental to our daily progress.

I must also thank another person, on behalf of our entire faculty community: our interim chancellor and provost, Susan Wente . Her integrity and perseverance continue to move our institution forward—in both of her roles—even as we navigate a generation-defining global pandemic, and the many side effects that none of us could have imagined. In thinking about this past year, it is evident that Interim Chancellor Wente always put Vanderbilt first, and I know she will continue to do so.

Finally, I’d like to encourage any and all faculty members to attend our upcoming Faculty Senate meetings. Regardless of the specific topics at hand, these meetings are a great way for us to come together and pinpoint the priorities that matter most to us all. You can also stay involved with through our Faculty Engaged newsroom and by following us on Twitter and Facebook. Finally, I encourage you to get in touch with your senator. If you don’t know who your Senator is, you can find out here.

I am optimistic about the year ahead. Vanderbilt is, necessarily, a place of vital and constant change—but that’s what led us to our current success, and it’s what will keep our momentum moving forward.


John R. McLean
Stevenson Professor of Chemistry
Faculty Senate Chair
Department of Chemistry Chair