Vanderbilt University

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Vanderbilt University

Established 1873
School type Private University
Chancellor Gordon Gee
Location Nashville, Tenn.
Enrollment 6,300 undergraduate
5,200 graduate and professional
Faculty 2,400
Campus Urban
330 acres (1.3 km²)
Endowment $2.26 billion
Athletics 15 Varsity Sports
Nickname Commodores
Conference Southeastern
(NCAA Division I)

Vanderbilt University (colloquially known as Vandy) is a private, nonsectarian, coeducational university in Nashville, Tennessee. Originally founded as Central University, it was renamed in 1873, before it even enrolled its first student, as the result of a gift of $1 million by shipping and rail magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt, despite having never been to the South, hoped his gift and the greater work of the university would help to heal the sectional wounds inflicted by the Civil War.

Today, Vanderbilt enrolls around 11,000 students in 10 schools—4 undergraduate and 6 graduate and professional. Also affiliated with Vanderbilt is a major research and primary-care medical center. E. Gordon Gee is the current chancellor.




Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt

In the years prior to the Civil War, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South had been considering creating a regional university for the training of ministers. Through the lobbying of Nashville bishop Holland McTyeire, church leaders voted in 1872 to create a "Central University" in Nashville. However, lack of funds (not to mention the war-ravaged state of the South) delayed the opening of the college.

The following year, on a medical trip to New York, McTyeire stayed at the residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose second wife was the cousin of McTyeire's wife. Vanderbilt, the wealthiest man in America at the time, had been considering philanthropy causes as he was at an advanced age. His original plan was to establish a university on Staten Island, New York in honor of his mother. However, McTyeire successfully convinced him to donate $500,000 to endow Central University. The endowment (later increased to $1 million) would be Vanderbilt's only philanthropy. Though he never expressed any desire to having the university named after himself, McTyeire and his fellow trustees soon rechristened the school as the Vanderbilt University.

Early Years

Kirkland Hall, the oldest building on campus
Kirkland Hall, the oldest building on campus

In the fall of 1875, about two hundred students enrolled at Vanderbilt; the University was dedicated in October of that year. Bishop McTyeire, who had been named Chairman of the Board of Trust for life by Vanderbilt as a stipulation of his endowment, named Landon Garland, his mentor from Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and then-Chancellor of the University of Mississippi, as Chancellor. Garland shaped the school's structure and hired the school's faculty, many of whom were renowned scholars in their respective fields. However, most of this crop of star faculty left after disputes with Bishop McTyeire.

For the first 40 years, the Board of Trust (and therefore the University itself) was under the control of the general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. However, tensions began rising between the University administration and the Conference over the future of the school, particularly over the methods by which members of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust would be chosen. Conflicts escalated with the appointment of James Kirkland as chancellor in 1893. The final straw, at least in the mind of Kirkland, was a failed campaign to raise $300,000 from Southern Methodist congregations (only $50,000 was raised). Further disputes between the bishops and Kirkland, which erupted into litigation in 1912, led the Methodist conference to sever all ties with Vanderbilt University in June 1914.

Contemporary Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt experienced the peak of its intellectual influence during 1920s and 1930s when it hosted two partly overlapping groups of scholars who had a large impact on American thought and letters: the Fugitives and the Agrarians.

In 1966, Oberlin Graduate School of Theology moved from Ohio to Nashville, in order to merge with the Vanderbilt Divinity School. In 1979, Vanderbilt absorbed its neighbor Peabody College.

During the Civil Rights movement, Vanderbilt exhibited both the best and worst of the attitude prevalent in the South during that time. In the late 1950s, the Vanderbilt Divinity School became something of a hotbed of the emerging movement, and the university responded rashly by expelling one of its leaders, James Lawson. Much later, in 1996, he was made a Distinguished Alumnus for his achievements. History, race, and civil rights issues again came to the fore on the campus in 2002, when the university decided to rename a dormitory on the Peabody campus, Confederate Memorial Hall, to Memorial Hall. Nationwide attention resulted, in part due to a lawsuit by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who had helped pay for the building's construction in 1933 with a $50,000 contribution. [1]

The Davidson County Chancery Court dismissed the lawsuit in 2003, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled in May 2005 that the university would have to pay damages based on the present value of the United Daughters of the Confederacy's contribution if an inscription bearing the name "Confederate Memorial Hall" were to be removed from the building or altered. In late July, 2005, the university announced that although it has officially renamed the building and all university publications and offices will continue to refer to it solely as Memorial Hall, the university will neither appeal the matter further nor remove the inscription and pay damages. Meanwhile, racial diversity in campus admissions has increased but past and present students still complain about "little or no interaction between the races."


The Vanderbilt University Seal
The Vanderbilt University Seal

Board of Trust

Vanderbilt University, as any private corporation, is wholly governed by an independent, self-perpetuating Board of Trust. The Board is comprised of 45 regular members (plus any number of trustees emeriti) and the Chancellor. Each trustee serves a five-year term. A complete, up-to-date listing of the members of the Board of Trust can be found here. Martha Rivers Ingram is the current Chairman of the Board of Trust.


Gordon Gee is the current Chancellor of Vanderbilt University. Appointed by the Board of Trust, he is the Chief Executive Officer of the University, and serves only at the pleasure of the Board. Prior to his appointment in February 2000, Gee served as President of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Prior to Gee, the following men were chancellor:

  • Landon Garland (1875–1893)
  • James Kirkland (1893–1937)
  • Oliver Carmichael (1937–1946)
  • Harvie Branscomb (1946–1962)
  • Alexander Heard (1963–1982)
  • Joe B. Wyatt (1982–2000)

Academic divisions

Vanderbilt University is currently divided into ten degree-granting units. Each division is headed by a Dean. The divisions of the University (and their current Dean) are:

  • College of Arts and Science - Richard McCarty
  • Blair School of Music - Mark Wait
  • School of Engineering - Kenneth F. Galloway
  • Peabody College of Education and Human Development - Camilla Benbow
  • Graduate School - Dennis Hall, Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Education
  • Divinity School - James Hudnut-Beumler
  • Law School - Edward L. Rubin
  • School of Medicine - Steven G. Gabbe
  • School of Nursing - Colleen Conway-Welch
  • Owen Graduate School of Management - Jim Bradford

Students and Faculty

As of Fall 2004, the University had an enrollment of 6,272 undergraduate and 5,022 graduate and professional students. Once considered a Southern school, Vanderbilt has been taking steps to diversify its incoming classes both ethnically and geographically. Today, around 55% of the total student body comes from outside the South, including some 8.5% from outside the United States. Moreover, 22% of the Class of 2008 were students of color.

With a total of over 18,000 employees, Vanderbilt is the largest private employer in Nashville and one of the largest in Tennessee. This figure includes 2,379 full time, 383 part time, and 1,229 Medical Center faculty. 97% of Vanderbilt faculty have terminal degrees in their field of academia. The undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 9:1.


The Vanderbilt campus is located approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of downtown in the West End neighborhood of midtown Nashville. It has an area of 330 acres (134 hectares), though this figure includes large tracts of sparsely used land in the southwest part of the main campus, as well the medical center. The original academic quad is approximately 30 acres (12 ha) in area.

Click here for to see a campus map.


The Vanderbilt campus is roughly fan-shaped (with the point at the corner of West End and 21st Avenues) and divisible into six sections. In the northeast corner of the campus (the "base" of the fan) is the original campus with the Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Foote home, the only campus building that existed before the University was founded. The first college buildings, including Kirkland Hall, were erected here in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. This section stretches from West End Avenue south to the Stevenson Center and west from 21st Avenue to Alumni Lawn. The majority of the buildings of the arts and humanities departments of the College of Arts and Science, as well as the facilities of the Law School, Owen, and the Divinity School, are located in the original campus. Additionally, the Jean and Alexander Heard Memorial Library and Sarratt Student Center/Rand Hall can be found on the original campus.

The Wyatt Center on the Peabody campus
The Wyatt Center on the Peabody campus

Flanking the original campus to the south (and separating it from the Medical Center) are the sprawling Stevenson Center for the Natural Sciences (housing all science and math departments of the College of Arts and Science, save for psychology, and several departments of the School of Engineering) and the School of Engineering complex (Jacobs Hall-Featheringill Hall).

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center takes up the southeastern part of the campus. Besides the various associated hospitals and clinics and the facilities of the schools of Medicine and Nursing, the Medical Center also houses many research facilities.

Directly across 21st Avenue from the Medical Center, the campus of Peabody College stands almost with itself. In fact, prior to 1979, Peabody College was an institution independent of Vanderbilt. Due to separate histories, the Peabody Campus is designed radically differently from the original campus. Whereas the original campus has a semi-organic design, the Peabody campus is designed geometrically, recalling the Jeffersonian style of the University of Virginia to the informed observer.


The oldest part of the Vanderbilt campus is known for its abundance of trees and greenspace which stand in contrast to the surrounding cityscape of urban Nashville. At least one specimen of every tree that is indigenous to the state of Tennessee grows on campus. One tree, the Bicentennial Oak between Rand Hall and Garland Hall, is certified to have lived during the American Revolution.

The main (original) campus was designated by the Association of Botanical Gardens and Aboreta as a national arboretum in 1988, a status which the University does not take lightly. One interesting consequence of this designation which any visitor to the campus will quickly notice is length to which trees on campus are protected. Signs posted to the trees by various student groups are actually bound to the trees with wire instead of being nailed to them, as it is unlawful to cause damage to any tree on a national arboretum.

Student life

All undergraduate students not living with relatives in Davidson County are required to live on campus all four years to the extent that on-campus student housing facilities can hold them. Therefore, in reality, approximately 80% of undergraduates -- freshman, sophomores, and most juniors -- live on campus, while most senior undergraduates and graduate/professional students live near campus. Consequently, student life at Vanderbilt is heavily intertwined with campus life.

The University recognizes more than 300 student organizations, ranging from academic major societies to recreational sports clubs.

As of Spring 2005, 45% of the undergraduate student body was affiliated with one of 34 social Greek organizations. Specifically, 34% of men were members of fraternities and 55% of women were members of sororities.

A well-respected Honor Code maintains the highest integrity in all academic work.


Medical Center

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center is a vital component of the University. It is distinguished in medical education, research, and patient care. It is comprised of the following units:

  • Vanderbilt University Hosptial (VUH)
  • The Monroe Carell, Jr., Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
  • Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital
  • Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital
  • The Vanderbilt Clinic
  • Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
  • Vanderbilt University School of Nursing

In 2003, the Medical Center was placed on the Honor Roll of U.S. News and World Report annual rating of the nation's best hospitals, solidifying it's reputation as a peer of renowned medical centers like The Clevland Clinic and Duke Medical Center.

Accolades and Unusual research

Vanderbilt has consistently received high marks from the U.S. News. Vanderbilt currently ranks 18th in the nation among national research universities in the U.S. News college rankings. I

n the U.S. News graduate program rankings, the Vanderbilt Law School ranks 17th, Vanderbilt's Peabody College ranks fifth among schools of education, and Vanderbilt's Owen School of Management ranks 45th among business schools. (Though it has been argued that Vanderbilt's ranking is hindered by its relatively small size. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal recently ranked Owen second among "smaller" business schools.) The U.S News ranked the university's school of medicine 17th in the nation among research-oriented medical schools in its annual ratings of best American educational institutions.

Additionally, Vanderbilt is ranked first in the nation in the fields of Special Education and Audiology. It is also ranked in the top ten (currently at number seven overall) for its Graduate Department of Religion, and in particular it garners even higher ratings for its work in Religion and Personality and Homiletics.

As with any large research institution, Vanderbilt investigators work in a broad range of disciplines. However, among its more unusual activities, the university has institutes devoted to the study of coffee and of bridge (the game, invented by a great-grandson of the Commodore). In addition, in mid-2004 it was announced that Vanderbilt's chemical biology research may have serendipitously opened the door to the breeding of a blue rose, something that had long been coveted by horticulturalists and rose lovers.


Interior Shot of Memorial Gymnasium, home of the men's and women's basketball teams
Interior Shot of Memorial Gymnasium, home of the men's and women's basketball teams

Vanderbilt's intercollegiate athletics teams are nicknamed the Commodores. This is based upon Cornelius Vanderbilt having been nicknamed "The Commodore" due to this mighty shipping empire. The school colors are black and gold.

The school is a member of the ultracompetitive Southeastern Conference (in which it is the only private school) in Division I of the NCAA. Additionally, the school is a member of the American Lacrosse Conference (women's lacrosse) and the Missouri Valley Conference, where it fields a men's soccer team as the SEC does not sponsor that sport for men. Vanderbilt fields teams in 15 varsity sports (7 men's and 8 women's). Men's and women's tennis, as well as lacrosse, are Vandy's strongest sports

Campus athletic facilities include Vanderbilt Stadium (seating capacity: 39,790), Memorial Gymnasium (14,168), Hawkins Field (1,500), the Vanderbilt Soccer/Lacrosse Complex (2,400), and the Brownlee O. Currey Jr. Tennis Center.

In a bold move by Chancellor Gee, Vanderbilt's athletics were recently moved into the Division of Student Life under the purview and management of the University's academic administration, marking the end to a nonintegrated and separate Athletic Department.

Notable Faculty and Alumni

Main article: List of Vanderbilt University People

Among the notable people who have attended or graduated from Vanderbilt are Robert Penn Warren, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and writer and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (194445); Al Gore, 45th Vice President of the United States; Tipper Gore, activist and former Second Lady of the United States; David Brinkley, notable broadcast journalist; and Amy Grant, Contemporary Christian musical artist.

See also

External links

Tennessee private colleges and universities
Aquinas College | Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences | Belmont University | Bethel College | Bryan College | Carson-Newman College | Christian Brothers University | Crichton College | Cumberland University | Fisk University | Free Will Baptist Bible College | Freed-Hardeman University | Johnson Bible College | King College | Knoxville College | Lambuth University | Lane College | Lee University | LeMoyne-Owen College | Lincoln Memorial University | Lipscomb University | Martin Methodist College | Maryville College | Meharry Medical College | Memphis College of Art | Milligan College | O'More College of Design | Rhodes College | Sewanee, The University of the South | Southern Adventist University | Tennessee Temple University | Tennessee Wesleyan College | Trevecca Nazarene University | Tusculum College | Union University | Vanderbilt University

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