Nicholas S. Zeppos named Vanderbilt University’s eighth chancellor

Nicholas S. Zeppos, Vanderbilt University’s provost and interim chancellor, has been named chancellor. Zeppos’ appointment as Vanderbilt’s eighth chancellor was announced March 1, by search committee chairman Dennis Bottorff.

Read Tennessean profile of Chancellor Zeppos by Colby Sledge

Chancellor Zeppos is a distinguished legal scholar, teacher and administrator who has been a vital presence on the Vanderbilt University campus for two decades. He joined Vanderbilt faculty’s in 1987 as an assistant professor in the law school, where he was recognized with five teaching awards. He subsequently served as an associate dean and then as Vanderbilt’s associate provost before being named the university’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs in 2002.

From 1982 to 1987, Zeppos practiced law in Washington, D.C., at the United States Department of Justice and at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, where he specialized in appellate litigation involving complex regulatory, statutory and constitutional matters. He has written widely on legislation, administrative law and professional responsibility and is a nationally recognized scholar in these fields. He served as chair for the Scholars Committee, advising the Senate and the American Bar Association on the confirmation of Justice Stephen Breyer, and as chair of the Rules Advisory Committee of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He has also served as a consultant to government agencies, major corporations and trade associations on complex litigation, policy design and strategy.

Zeppos’ unanimous election as chancellor was announced following the final session of the Board of Trust’s winter meeting. He was chosen as chancellor after a national search.

“Vanderbilt set the highest possible standard in seeking our next chancellor,” said Dennis C. Bottorff, chair of a nine-member search committee that has been at work since the resignation of E. Gordon Gee on Aug. 1, 2007. “We wanted someone with an effective balance of executive leadership and scholarship, an individual who understands the centrality of the undergraduate experience and, at the same time, recognizes the crucial role of our graduate and professional schools and medical center. We were seeking a person who could manage, lead and inspire; who is committed to Vanderbilt’s central missions of education, research and service; and who has a passion for excellence and success in everything that we do. We sought someone who will value and promote the life of the mind in all corners of the university, who can effectively represent Vanderbilt locally and nationally, and who can promote a culture of philanthropy to sustain Vanderbilt’s growth.

“Our search identified the person who uniquely possesses these qualities, and he is Nick Zeppos.”

Martha Ingram, chairman of the Board of Trust, said, “I have come to know Nick Zeppos as a scholar, a teacher, an executive, an advocate and a friend, and I am convinced he is the best person in the country to be chancellor of Vanderbilt. This great university has come so far, so fast, and the principal reason is Nick’s enormous intellect, his great vision, and his tireless commitment to Vanderbilt’s students, faculty, staff and alumni.

“Nick knows Vanderbilt; he knows our strengths, our traditions and the challenges we face as we seek to continue the momentum that has made this university so special," Ingram continued. "But more importantly, he has the vision and the demonstrated ability to work across all disciplines to make Vanderbilt a global leader in higher education. I am delighted that he and Lydia have accepted our invitation to serve the university that we love in this new and vital role.”

Zeppos, 53, said he was “honored and grateful for the trust that the Board, faculty, students and alumni have placed in me at this critical time in Vanderbilt’s history.

“Lydia and I came to Vanderbilt 21 years ago to teach and to learn, to raise a family in a wonderful city and to be part of a great university. We all now share a responsibility to make Vanderbilt live up to its enormous potential.

"A university is the most vital institution in society because it is built on timeless values of truth, knowledge, discovery and healing," he said. "Vanderbilt has so much to offer society, and I Iook forward to working with my colleagues on campus, in the community and around the world to continue this university’s mission of excellence and service."

Divinity School Dean James Hudnut-Beumler, who chaired an advisory committee of faculty, staff and students, said, “The input of students, faculty and staff this fall helped guide the search committee to focus on academic leaders who combined excellence in scholarship with broad interests in every aspect of university life and had the personal skills to lead and manage a complex institution. With Nick Zeppos we have found a leader who offers the entire package and who knows and loves Vanderbilt.”

Since 2002, Zeppos has overseen the university’s undergraduate, graduate and professional education programs as well as research in liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education, business, law and divinity. As provost and vice chancellor, he chaired Vanderbilt’s budgeting and capital planning council and led all fundraising and alumni relations efforts across the institution and oversaw the dean of students and dean of admissions.

Zeppos has led a number of important initiatives at Vanderbilt, including the planning process for The Commons, a landmark transformation of the first-year experience; the Strategic Academic Planning Group; innovative efforts in undergraduate admissions and financial aid; and the development of new programs in Jewish studies, law and economics, and genetics, among others. He also has led the university’s Shape the Future fundraising campaign, which exceeded its $1.25 billion goal two years ahead of schedule and set a new target of $1.75 billion by 2010.

Zeppos was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a 1979 magna cum laude graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he served as editor in chief of the Wisconsin Law Review and was selected as the outstanding graduate of his class, and a 1976 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he studied history.

He is married to Lydia Ann Howarth, a graduate of the University of Chicago and Lawrence University, who is a writer and editor. They have two sons, Benjamin, 21, and Nicholas, 18.

The search for a new chancellor began shortly after former Chancellor Gee’s resignation in July 2007, and involved much of the Vanderbilt community.

During the first phase, the search committee obtained extensive input from students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends through survey responses and discussions in nearly two dozen “listening sessions.”

The advisory committee of faculty, staff and students assisted the search committee by developing and evaluating the criteria to be used in seeking candidates, soliciting comments and suggestions from the Vanderbilt community and assisting the Board of Trust in presenting a full and complete portrait of Vanderbilt. More than 2,000 people submitted comments. In addition to Dean Hudnut-Beumler, the advisory committee included representatives of the Faculty Senate, University and Medical Center Staff Advisory Councils, the Vanderbilt Student Government, and the Graduate and Professional Student Council.

Vanderbilt University, founded in 1873, is a private research university with more than 11,000 students. It is one of Tennessee’s largest employers with more than 20,000 employees. It has been consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top 20 universities.

The first chancellor of Vanderbilt University was Landon C. Garland (1875-1893), followed by James H. Kirkland (1893-1937), Oliver C. Carmichael (1937-1945), Harvie Branscomb (1945-1963), Alexander Heard (1963-1982), Joe B. Wyatt (1982-2000) and Gordon Gee (2000-2007).

– Michael J. Schoenfeld, Vanderbilt University Public Affairs

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