Tennessean: Nashville leaders, community praise Vanderbilt Chancellor Zeppos' 'passion for excellence'

Posted on April 2, 2019

Tennessean: Nashville leaders, community praise Vanderbilt Chancellor Zeppos' 'passion for excellence'

By: Jessica Bliss

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/04/02/vanderbilt-university-chancellor-nicholas-zeppos-steps-down-nashville-tn-reacts/3340494002/

News on Tuesday morning that Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos would step down in August due to health problems brought a host of reflections and well wishes for the man who has led the institution for more than a decade.

Zeppos started at the university as a law professor in 1987 and over time worked his way into the administration. He began his tenure as chancellor in 2008.

"Chancellor Zeppos has become an institution in our community due to his incredible leadership," Nashville Mayor David Briley said in a statement. "His tenure leading Vanderbilt University leaves a lasting legacy that will be impossible to replicate.

"I wish him the best in the future and look forward to his healthy return to the University he so loves."

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., congratulated and thanked Zeppos for his commitment to higher education.

"His legacy is best depicted through the generations of students who have used their education to improve the lives of others through leadership and public service," she said in a statement.

A man who worked to eliminate red tape and improve academic spaces

Zeppos leaves at a time of growing prestige and accomplishment for the University.

In 2013, at the request of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, Zeppos led college administrators in recommendations to Congress that would simplify thousands of pages of regulations that accompany student grants and loans.

Zeppos, along with University of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan, made 59 recommendations to eliminate "a jungle of red tape that wastes money on costly overhead that could instead be spent on students," Alexander said in a statement.

Zeppos leaves at a time of growing prestige and accomplishment for the University.

In 2013, at the request of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, Zeppos led college administrators in recommendations to Congress that would simplify thousands of pages of regulations that accompany student grants and loans.

Zeppos, along with University of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan, made 59 recommendations to eliminate "a jungle of red tape that wastes money on costly overhead that could instead be spent on students," Alexander said in a statement.

Many from the sports world also offered thoughts on the chancellor's impact on athletics.

Zeppos was at the helm during some of Vanderbilt's most successful sports seasons, with multiple bowl game appearances for the university's football team and a national title from the baseball team in 2014, leading to its perennial role as a qualifier in the College World Series.

Zeppos also navigated a high-profile rape trial that linked the Vanderbilt name and football team with a horrific act of sexual violence in 2016.

Author Andrew Maraniss commended Zeppos for repairing the university's relationships with some of its most prominent and important African-American students, who, as Zeppos wrote in a personal column, "opened the doors to equality."

A Vanderbilt alum, Maraniss is best known for his book "Strong Inside," which tells the story of Perry Wallace, the first African-American to play college basketball under an athletic scholarship in the Southeastern Conference.

"Perry used to say 'reconciliation without the truth is just acting,' but he felt the healing was real at VU," Maraniss tweeted.

Jared Stillman, radio host of "Jared & The GM" on ESPN's 102.5 The Game in Nashville, also shared fondness for Zeppos, whom he has know since he was 7 years old. He tweeted that "at his core" Zeppos was "a true teacher."

Despite his championing of sports, there has been a recent push and pull between Zeppos' administration and athletics. Vanderbilt’s ongoing $600 million capital project along the West End Avenue side of campus is a source of university pride, but it includes no athletics facilities, which have frustrated some sports fans.

The most recent sports investment under Zeppos' leadership was a new $12 million baseball facility, which was capped by a $2.5 million donation from former player David Price.

Zeppos' departure is "a big deal on many levels," tweeted Fox Sports Radio personality Clay Travis, but especially from a sports perspective where Vanderbilt will now have a new chancellor and a first-year athletic director after the death of David Williams.

'Thoughtful and wise leader, willing to make tough decisions'

But investment has come from Zeppos in academics, both as a professor and administrator — with impact beyond just the university's campus. Under his leadership, Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt have continued to collaborate on community-engaged research initiatives.

Meharry’s President, Dr. James E. K. Hildreth, said Zeppos' contributions to Vanderbilt "have left an indelible imprint on our great city."

"I have always appreciated the careful attention that Chancellor Zeppos pays to the education and training of tomorrow's health care leaders," Hildreth said. "Our city, state and nation are stronger and healthier thanks to the leadership and compassion of Chancellor Zeppos."

State Senator Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, thanked Zeppos for his service in a tweet posted just after noon on Tuesday. "We look forward to hearing from you in the future," she wrote of the chancellor, who plans to take a yearlong sabbatical before returning to the faculty as a professor of law.

Former students and parents of current students also took to social media to share their well wishes for Zeppos, under whose leadership more than $400 million was raised to support his signature Opportunity Vanderbilt initiative, an expansive financial aid program that eliminated need-based loans for undergraduate students starting in 2008.

Faculty, administrators and professors across campus also offered their thoughts on Twitter.

James Page, Vanderbilt's vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, said he would put Zeppos at the top of the list of the "best and the brightest individuals" he has ever worked for. One who valued equality and diversity.

Stephen Wilson, an associate professor of hearing and speech sciences, called Zeppos a "thoughtful and wise leader, willing to make tough decisions" and with his heart "always in the right place."