In the years prior to the American Civil War of 1861–1865, the Methodist Episcopal Church South had been considering the creation of a regional university for the training of ministers in a location central to its congregations. Following lobbying by Nashville bishop Holland Nimmons McTyeire, the author of an essay about black slavery whose father was "a cotton planter and a slaveholder" in South Carolina, church leaders voted to found "The Central University of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South" in Nashville in 1872. However, lack of funds and the ravaged state of the Reconstruction Era South delayed the opening of the college.
The following year, McTyeire stayed at the New York City residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose second wife was Frank Armstrong Crawford Vanderbilt (1839–1885), a cousin of McTyeire's wife, Amelia Townsend McTyeire (1827–1891); both women were from Mobile, Alabama. Indeed, the McTyeires had met at St. Francis Street Methodist Church in Mobile. Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was the wealthiest man in the United States at the time, was considering philanthropy as he was at an advanced age. He had been planning to establish a university on Staten Island, New York, in honor of his mother. However, McTyeire convinced him to donate $500,000 to endow Central University in order to "contribute to strengthening the ties which should exist between all sections of our common country."
The endowment was eventually increased to $1 million (roughly $19,973,867 in 2015 dollars) and would be only one of two philanthropic causes financially supported by Vanderbilt. Though he never expressed any desire that the university be named after himself, McTyeire and his fellow trustees rechristened the school in his honor. Vanderbilt died in 1877 without seeing the school named after him. They acquired land formerly owned by Texas Senator John Boyd (who chose to patronize the establishment of Trinity University, a Presbyterian university in San Antonio, Texas instead), later inherited by his granddaughter and her husband, Confederate Congressman Henry S. Foote, who had built Old Central, a house still standing on campus.
One of the founding trustees, Hezekiah William Foote, was a Confederate veteran and the owner of four plantations in Mississippi, including Mount Holly. The Treasurer of the Board of Trust from 1872 to 1875, Alexander Little Page Green, whose portrait hangs in Kirkland Hall, was a Methodist preacher and a former slave owner. His son-in-law, Robert A. Young, was a Methodist minister who served as the Financial Secretary on the Board of Trust from 1874 to 1882, retiring from the board in 1902.
The first building, Main Building, later known as Kirkland Hall, was designed by William Crawford Smith, a Confederate veteran who also designed The Parthenon; its construction began in 1874. In the fall of 1875, about 200 students enrolled at Vanderbilt, and in October the university was dedicated. Bishop McTyeire was named Chairman of the Board of Trust for life by Vanderbilt as a stipulation of his endowment. McTyeire named Landon Garland (1810–1895), 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 faculty left after disputes with Bishop McTyeire, including over pay rates. When the first fraternity chapter, Phi Delta Theta, was established on campus in 1876, it was shut down by the faculty, only to be reestablished as a secret society in 1877. Meanwhile, Old Gym, designed by Dutch-born architect Peter J. Williamson, was built in 1879–1880. By 1883, the Board of Trust passed a resolution allowing fraternities on campus, and more chapters were established in 1884.
During the first 40 years, the Board of Trust, and therefore the university, was under the control of the General Conference (the governing body) of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Tension grew 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, and the extent that non-Methodists could teach at the school.
Conflicts escalated after James H. Kirkland was appointed chancellor in 1893. Then the Southern Methodist Church congregations raised just $50,000 in a campaign to raise $300,000.
After the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897, a statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt, designed by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, was moved from the grounds of the Parthenon to the Vanderbilt campus.
In 1905, Kirkland Hall burnt down, only to be rebuilt shortly after. Meanwhile, the Board of Trust voted to limit Methodist representation on the board to just five bishops. Former faculty member and bishop Elijah Hoss led a group attempting to assert Methodist control. In 1910, the board refused to seat three Methodist bishops. The Methodist Church took the issue to court and won at the local level. On March 21, 1914, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the Commodore, and not the Methodist Church, was the university's founder and that the board could therefore seat whomever it wished. The General Conference in 1914 voted 151 to 140 to sever its ties with Vanderbilt; it also voted to establish a new university, Southern Methodist University, and to greatly expand Emory University.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Vanderbilt University hosted two partly overlapping groups of scholars who had a large impact on American thought and letters: the Fugitives and the Agrarians. Meanwhile, Frank C. Rand, who served as the President and later Chairman of the International Shoe Company, donated US$150,000 to the university in 1925; Rand Hall was subsequently named for him.
In 1933, the United Daughters of the Confederacy donated $50,000 (roughly $925,166 in 2015 dollars) for the construction of Confederate Memorial Hall, designed by architect Henry C. Hibbs. It was completed in 1935.
In the 1930s, Ernest William Goodpasture and his colleagues in the School of Medicine invented methods for cultivating viruses and rickettsiae in fertilized chicken eggs. This work made possible the production of vaccines against chicken pox, smallpox, yellow fever, typhus, Rocky mountain spotted fever and other diseases caused by agents that only propagate in living cells. Alfred Blalock, Professor of Surgery, and his assistant Vivian Thomas identified a decrease in blood volume and fluid loss outside the vascular bed as a key factor in traumatic shock and pioneered the use of replacement fluids for its treatment. This treatment saved countless lives in World War II, during which Vanderbilt was one of 131 colleges and universities nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program which offered students a path to a Navy commission.
Shortly after the war, from 1945 to 1947, researchers at Vanderbilt University conducted an experiment funded by the Rockefeller Foundation where they gave 800 pregnant women radioactive iron, 751 of which were pills, without their consent. In a 1969 article published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, it was estimated that three children had died from the experiment. When the United States Department of Energy tried to investigate what had happened in 1993, they were told by the university that the records had been destroyed in the 1970s. Democratic Senator Jim Sasser called the experiment "deeply disturbing." After the women sued, they received US$9.1 million from Vanderbilt University and US$900,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1998.
In 1953, the School of Religion admitted the first African-American student to the university. In 1960, the School of Religion expelled a student who was one of the leaders of the emerging civil rights movement, James Lawson. Several faculty members resigned in protest. In 2005, Lawson was re-hired as a Distinguished University Professor for the 2006–2007 academic year, and named a Distinguished Alumnus for his achievements.
The Vanderbilt Board of Trust in May 1962 voted to accept African Americans in all schools, and first undergraduates entered the school the fall of 1964. The university drew national attention in 1966 when it recruited Perry Wallace, the first African-American athlete in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Wallace, from Nashville, played varsity basketball for Vanderbilt from 1967 to 1970, and faced considerable opposition from segregationists when playing at other SEC venues. In 2004, a student-led drive to retire Wallace's jersey finally succeeded.
In 1979, Vanderbilt acquired Peabody College, then called the "George Peabody College for Teachers", residing on 53 acres adjacent to the university. In the early 1980s, Vanderbilt University was a financial backer of the Corrections Corporation of America prior to its IPO.
In 2002, the university decided to rename Confederate Memorial Hall, a residence hall on the Peabody campus to Memorial Hall. Nationwide attention resulted, in part due to a lawsuit by the Tennessee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Davidson County Chancery Court dismissed the lawsuit in 2003, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled in May 2005 that the university must pay damages based on the present value of the United Daughters of the Confederacy's contribution if the inscription bearing the name "Confederate Memorial Hall" was removed from the building or altered. The Court of Appeals' decision has been critiqued by legal scholars. In late July 2005, the university announced that although it had officially renamed the building, and all university publications and offices will refer to it solely as Memorial Hall, the university would neither appeal the matter further, nor remove the inscription and pay damages. In August 2016, the university agreed to remove the word "Confederate" from the building after "anonymous donors" donated $1.2 million to repay the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
In 2009, Vanderbilt instituted a no-loan policy. The policy states that any student granted admission and a need-based aid package will have an award that includes no student loans. In 2011, the Oakland Institute, an Oakland, California-based think tank, exposed Vanderbilt University's $26 million investment in EMVest Asset Management, a private equity firm "accused of 'land grabbing,' or taking over agricultural land used by local communities through exploitative practices and using it for large-scale commercial export farming … in five sub-Saharan African countries, including Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe." The revelation made international headlines, with coverage in The Guardian, and led to student protests on campus in 2012. By 2013, Vanderbilt administrators had caved in to the public outcry and divested from EMVest.
In 2015, Vanderbilt opened a new innovation center, the Wond'ry, as part of its Academic Strategic Plan. The three-story, 13,000-square foot building is meant to serve as an interdisciplinary hub of knowledge for the Vanderbilt community, serving as the location of hackathons, partnerships with the Nashville Entrepreneurship Center, and several social venture programs. Robert Grajewski, former president of Edison Nation Medical, a health care innovation incubator, and co-founder of Heritage Handcrafted and PRO-Techs Antimicrobial, will be the center's inaugural executive director. The four key programs at the center are the Innovation Garage, Social Entrepreneurship, Innovation Culture, and Entrepreneur Pre-Flight.
Vanderbilt University, as a private corporation, is wholly governed by an independent, self-perpetuating Board of Trust. The board comprises 45 regular members (plus any number of trustees emeriti) and the chancellor, the university's chief executive officer. Each trustee serves a five-year term (except for four recently graduated alumni, who serve two two-year terms). Mark Dalton is the board's chairman.
Nicholas S. Zeppos currently serves as chancellor of Vanderbilt University. He was appointed interim chancellor after the departure of Gordon Gee, who left to reassume the presidency of Ohio State University on August 1, 2007, and was named chancellor in his own right on March 1, 2008.
Since the opening of the university in 1875, only eight individuals have served as chancellors. Landon Garland was the university's first chancellor, serving from 1875 to 1893. Garland organized the university and hired its first faculty. Garland Hall, an academic building on campus, is named in his honor.
The next chancellor was James Kirkland—serving from 1893 to 1937, he had the longest tenure of any Vanderbilt chancellor. He was responsible for severing the university's ties with the Methodist Church and relocating the medical school to the main campus. Vanderbilt's Main Building was renamed Kirkland Hall after Kirkland left in 1937.
The longest-tenured chancellor was followed by one of the shortest-tenured. Oliver Carmichael served Vanderbilt for just nine years, 1937 to 1946. Carmichael developed the graduate school, and established the Joint University Libraries for Vanderbilt, Peabody, and Scarritt College. Carmichael Towers, a set of high-rise dormitories on the northern edge of campus, were named for Chancellor Carmichael.
Carmichael's successor was Harvie Branscomb. Branscomb presided over a period of major growth and improvement at the university that lasted from 1946 until 1963. He was responsible for opening the admissions policy to all races. Branscomb Quadrangle is a residence hall complex named for the chancellor.
Alexander Heard, for whom the campus's 10-library system (with 3.3 million total volumes) is named, served as chancellor from 1963 to 1982. During his 20-year tenure, the Owen Graduate School of Management was founded, and Vanderbilt's merger with Peabody College was negotiated. He also survived calls for his ouster because of his accommodating stance on desegregation.
Joe B. Wyatt was the chancellor who served immediately after Heard, from 1982 until 2000. Wyatt oversaw a great increase in the university's endowment, an increase in student diversity, and the renovation of many campus buildings. Wyatt placed great emphasis on improving the quality of faculty and instruction, and during his tenure Vanderbilt rose to the top 25 in the U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings for the first time. The Wyatt Center on Peabody's campus is named for Wyatt and his wife.
Gee was appointed chancellor by the Board of Trust in February 2000. The Board of Trust has since established a committee to monitor more closely the spending by the chancellor's office.
After Gordon Gee's departure in 2007, Zeppos was named interim chancellor. He was named chancellor suo jure on March 1, 2008, by the university's Board of Trust.
The Vanderbilt University Medical Center is a component of the university, and is the only Level I Trauma Center in Middle Tennessee. VUMC comprises the following units: Vanderbilt University Hospital, Monroe Carell, Jr., Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital, Vanderbilt Clinic, Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, Eskind Biomedical Library, Vanderbilt Sports Medicine, Dayani Human Performance Center, Vanderbilt Page Campbell Heart Institute, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.
With over 23,000 employees, Vanderbilt is the largest private employer in Middle Tennessee and the second largest in the state. Approximately 74% of the university's faculty and staff are employed by the Medical Center. In 2008, the medical center was placed on the Honor Roll of U.S. News & World Report's annual rating of the nation's best hospitals, ranking 15th overall in the country.
As of 2015, Vanderbilt had an enrollment of 6,851 undergraduate and 5,874 graduate and professional students, for a total of 12,725 students. Students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries attend Vanderbilt, with 66% of the total student body coming from outside the Southeast. Moreover, 53.5% of the class of 2018 classified as Caucasian, 9.3% Hispanic/Latino, 9.5% Black or African American, 12.6% Asian, and 8.0% other/two or more races; 7.0% of the class is international. As of 2014, the incoming class was 50% male and 50% female.
Vanderbilt lets undergraduates choose between 70 majors, or create their own, in its four undergraduate schools and colleges: the College of Arts and Science, the School of Engineering, Peabody College of Education and Human Development, and Blair School of Music. The university also has six graduate and professional schools, including the Divinity School, Graduate School, Law School, School of Medicine, School of Nursing, and Owen Graduate School of Management.
The university's undergraduate programs are highly selective: in 2016, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions accepted 8.8% of its 28,700 Regular Decision applicants, thus making Vanderbilt one of the most selective universities in the United States and the most selective university in the state of Tennessee. In its most recent annual comparison of admissions selectivity, The Princeton Review gave Vanderbilt a rating of 99 out of 99. The admitted first-year class of 2018 had standardized test scores that were well above average: the interquartile range (25th percentile – 75th percentile) of SAT scores was 710-780 for Critical Reading, 720-780 for Math, and 680-770 for Writing, while the interquartile range of ACT scores was 32–34. For students of the class of 2016 whose schools reported exact class rankings, 95.26% ranked in the top 10% of their class, with an average rank of 3.39%.
Vanderbilt investigators work in a broad range of disciplines, and the university consistently ranks among the top 20 research institutions in the United States. In 2013, Vanderbilt University was ranked 9th in the country in funding from the National Institutes of Health. Its Institute for Space and Defense Electronics, housed in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, includes the largest academic facility in the world involved in radiation-effects research.
Among its more unusual activities, the university has institutes devoted to the study of coffee and of bridge. Indeed, the modern form of the latter was developed by Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, a former president of the university's Board of Trust and 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 has long been coveted by horticulturalists and rose lovers.
Vanderbilt's research record is blemished, however, by a study university researchers, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Health, conducted on iron metabolism during pregnancy in the 1940s. Between 1945 and 1949, over 800 pregnant women were given radioactive iron. Standards of informed consent for research subjects were not rigorously enforced at that time, and many of the women were not informed of the potential risks. The injections were later suspected to have caused cancer in at least three of the children who were born to these mothers. In 1998, the university settled a class action lawsuit with the mothers and surviving children for $10.3 million.
Vanderbilt is a member of the SEC Academic Consortium. Now renamed the SECU, the initiative was a collaborative endeavor designed to promote research, scholarship, and achievement among the member universities in the Southeastern Conference. The SECU's goals include highlighting the endeavors and achievements of SEC faculty, students, and universities and advancing the academic reputation of SEC universities.
In 2013, Vanderbilt University participated in the SEC Symposium in Atlanta, Georgia, which was organized and led by the University of Georgia and its Bioenergy Systems Research Institute. The topic of the symposium was titled "The Impact of the Southeast in the World's Renewable Energy Future".
In its 2016 edition, U.S. News & World Report ranked Vanderbilt 15th among all national universities. In the same publication's graduate program rankings, the Peabody College of Education was ranked third in the nation among schools of education, and the Vanderbilt Law School was listed at 16th, the School of Medicine was listed at 15th among research-oriented medical schools, the School of Nursing was listed at 15th, the School of Engineering was listed at 34th, and the Owen Graduate School of Management was listed at 25th among business schools. Additionally, U.S. News & World Report ranked Vanderbilt first in the nation in the fields of special education, educational administration, and audiology. In 2014, the Owen Graduate School of Management was ranked 30th by BloombergBusinessweek among full-time MBA programs.
The Academic Ranking of World Universities ranks Vanderbilt as the 60th-best university in the world. Additionally the ARWU Field rankings in 2015 placed Vanderbilt as 18th best in the world for Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy, and 21st in Social Sciences. In the Times Higher Education 2016 World University Rankings, Vanderbilt is 87th. The 2016/17 QS World University Rankings ranked Vanderbilt university 203rd in the world. Human Resources & Labor Review, a national human competitiveness index & analysis, ranked the university as one of 50 Best World Universities in 2011. The 2007 Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index, a measure of the scholarly output of the faculty of nearly 7,300 doctoral programs around the United States, ranked Vanderbilt 8th among large research universities, and 1st in the areas of comparative literature, educational leadership, pharmacology, Portuguese, Spanish, and special education. Poets & Writers ranked Vanderbilt's English Department's MFA Program in Creative Writing 18th among the top 50 writing programs in the United States in 2010 and 14th in the United States in 2011. Fortune magazine ranked Vanderbilt among the top 100 places to work in the United States, the only university on their list.
The Vanderbilt campus is located approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) southwest of downtown in the West End neighborhood of midtown Nashville. It has an area of 330 acres (1.3 km2), though this figure includes large tracts of sparsely used land in the southwest part of the main campus, as well as the Medical Center. The historical core of campus encompasses approximately 75 acres (0.3 km2).
The oldest part of the Vanderbilt campus is known for its abundance of trees and green space, which stand in contrast to the surrounding cityscape of urban Nashville. The campus was designated as a national arboretum in 1988 by the Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, and approximately 190 species of trees and shrubs can be found on campus. One tree, the Bicentennial Oak between Rand Hall and Garland Hall, is certified to have lived during the American Revolution and is the oldest living thing on the campus. In December 2015, a hackberry tree fell, leaving 10 students injured with "broken bones and stitches."
In the northeast corner of the campus (the base of the fan) is the original campus. 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 Graduate School of Management, and the Divinity School, are located in the original campus. Additionally, the Heard Central Library and Sarratt Student Center/Rand Hall can be found on the original campus.
Flanking the original campus to the south are the Stevenson Center for Science and Mathematics—built on a woodland once known as the Sacred Grove—and the School of Engineering complex (Jacobs Hall-Featheringill Hall). Housing the Science Library, the School of Engineering, and all the science and math departments of the College of Arts and Science, this complex sits between the original campus and the Medical Center. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center itself 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 major research facilities.
West of the original campus and the Medical Center, Greek Row and the bulk of the Vanderbilt residence halls are found. From north to south, Carmichael Towers, Greek Row, Branscomb Quadrangle, and Highland Quadrangle house the vast majority of on-campus residents in facilities ranging from the double-occupancy, shared-bathroom dorms in Branscomb and Towers to the apartments and lodges in Highland Quadrangle.
Memorial Gymnasium, Vanderbilt Stadium, Hawkins Field, McGugin Center, and all the other varsity athletic fields and facilities are to be found in the extreme west of campus. The Student Recreation Center and its associated intramural fields are located south of the varsity facilities.
Directly across 21st Avenue from the Medical Center sits the campus of the Peabody College of Education and Human Development.
The university recognizes nearly 530 student organizations, ranging from academic major societies and honoraries to recreational sports clubs, the oldest of which is the Vanderbilt Sailing Club.
One publication, The Vanderbilt Hustler, was established in 1888 and is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Nashville. In Langford v. Vanderbilt University (1956), a student sued the university for libel; the Tennessee court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding the university was not the owner of the newspaper. Additional student publications include those published by the College of Arts & Science, such as the Vanderbilt Political Review and the Vanderbilt Historical Review, as well as the Vanderbilt University Law School, which publishes three law reviews; the flagship journal is the Vanderbilt Law Review. The on-campus radio station, WRVU, represents the student body by playing a range of music from bluegrass to choral, with a focus on non-mainstream music.
Vanderbilt also has a large performing arts community spanning every genre of the arts with multiple organizations representing each category. There are dance groups covering contemporary, tap, hip hop, Latin, and Bhangra styles as well as numerous theatre, improvisation, spoken word, music and singing groups including the 2014 Sing-Off champion male a cappella group, The Melodores. Performing arts organizations comprise over 1,000 students and are represented by the Vanderbilt Performing Arts Community, which supports groups by sponsoring performances and awards.
The university is home to 17 fraternities and 16 sororities as of Spring 2015. As of 2006–2007, 35% of men were members of fraternities and 49% of women were members of sororities, or 42% of the total undergraduate population.
In 2012, students took part in the Occupy movement on campus. They pitched tents outside Kirkland Hall.
The student body is governed by Vanderbilt Student Government, which includes Senate, Judicial, and Executive Branches. This organization is responsible for the distribution of nearly $2 million in funds set aside by the university to fund student organizations.
Vanderbilt students are required to sign an Honor Code, agreeing to conform to a certain set of behaviors. There is an Honor Council, comprising a student executive board and representatives from each class year, that enforces and protects the Honor Code and to informs members of the Vanderbilt community about the Honor System. Violations can lead to discipline or expulsion from the university. In 2009, a student sued the university over his expulsion.
Dean of Students Charles Madison Sarratt explained the honor code:
Today I am going to give you two examinations, one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you will pass them both, but if you must fail one, let it be trigonometry, for there are many good men in this world today who cannot pass an examination in trigonometry, but there are no good men in the world who cannot pass an examination in honesty.
Generally, undergraduate students are required to live in dorms on campus, with first-year students all living in the ten resident halls on Peabody Campus and all upperclassmen living on the main campus. Exceptions are made for students living with relatives in Davidson County, students with health exemptions, married students, and some students with senior standing. Two of the new residence halls have received LEED silver certification and the new Commons Dining Center has received gold certification, making Vanderbilt the only university in the state to be recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council. The university expects all five of the new residence halls and one renovated residence hall to eventually receive LEED recognition. The total cost of The Commons construction project is expected to be over $150 million. In the summer of 2012, the university demolished the pre-existing dormitories known as the Kissam Quadrangle and broke ground on the Warren and Moore residential colleges, a new living and learning community following the system of the Commons. The project cost $115 million and opened its doors in August 2014.
On November 4, 2010, two anonymous former members of the Vanderbilt chapter, an alumnus and a senior student, alleged they were evicted from Beta Upsilon Chi, a Christian fraternity, for being gay.
In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2011, four Christian student organizations were placed on probation due to non-compliance with the university's nondiscrimination policy, which requires student groups to accept all students and forbids them from requiring that their officers share the "beliefs, goals and values" embodied in the group. Controversy continued to surround this issue throughout 2011 and 2012, culminating in a proposed state law exempting student organizations from nondiscrimination policies. Although the bill passed both houses of the Tennessee Legislature, it was vetoed by Governor Bill Haslam.
In March 2015, three swastikas, a symbol of Nazi antisemitism, were found spray-painted in the elevator and basement inside the house of Alpha Epsilon Pi, one of the historically Jewish fraternities on campus. The campus Hillel chapter called it "a malicious attack intended to bring to mind the horrors of the Holocaust, to force us to feel different, endangered and isolated." The news, characterized as a "hate crime" by university officials, made national and international headlines, including in Israel.
A 2015 survey reported that 20% of undergraduate students were sexually assaulted in 2014–2015. Meanwhile, as of 2015, The Tennessean reports that the university is "under review by federal education officials, spurred by six current and former female students who filed a complaint about how Vanderbilt has handled cases of sexual misconduct."
In April 2016 and June 2016, two former Vanderbilt football players were found guilty of charges related to the videotaped rape of an unconscious woman in a dorm room. Cory Batey was convicted of aggravated rape, aggravated sexual battery, facilitation of aggravated rape, and attempted aggravated rape, while Brandon Vandenburg was convicted of aggravated rape, aggravated sexual battery, and unlawful photography. The two are among four former football players charged with crimes related to the case.
Vanderbilt is a charter member of the Southeastern Conference and for a half-century has been the conference's only private school. The university fields six men's and nine women's intercollegiate teams. With fewer than 6,600 undergraduates, the school is also the smallest in the conference; the SEC's next-smallest school, the University of Mississippi, has nearly twice as many undergraduate students. Additionally, the school is a member of the Big East Conference for women's lacrosse, as the SEC does not sponsor that sport. Conversely, Vanderbilt is the only league school not to field teams in softball and volleyball, but has discussed adding either or both sports in the future.
Men's and women's tennis and men's and women's basketball are traditionally Vanderbilt's strongest sports. Both basketball teams play in quirky Memorial Gym, built in 1952. The homecourt advantage Vanderbilt has enjoyed has been nicknamed "Memorial Magic". The women's tennis team won the NCAA national championship in 2015.
In February 2016, the university was fined $100,000 by the Southeastern Conference after fans stormed the basketball court following a win.
The university is unique in NCAA Division I in that for several years the athletics department was not administered separately from other aspects of campus life; Vice Chancellor David Williams, who was over intercollegiate athletics, also was university counsel and in charge of other aspects of undergraduate campus life such as intramural sports. Despite fears that Vanderbilt would lose coaches and recruits or would be forced out of the SEC, the university experienced considerable success after the change; 2006–07 was one of the best in the school's athletic history. At one point, seven of Vanderbilt's 16 teams were concurrently ranked in the Top 25 of their respective sports. Women's bowling won the NCAA championship, bringing the university its first team championship since the advent of the NCAA. The baseball team qualified for the NCAA Super Regionals in 2004, had the nation's top recruiting class in 2005 according to Baseball America, made the NCAA field again in 2006, and won the 2007 SEC regular-season and tournament championships and won the NCAA college world series in 2014 (the university's only men's national championship). Vanderbilt was ranked first in most polls for a large portion of the 2007 season, and the team secured the top seed in the 2007 NCAA tournament., However, following the departure of former Chancellor Gordon Gee to return to Ohio State University, the experiment was phased out and Williams has officially been given the formal title of athletic director and slowly relieved of his other responsibilities in order to allow him to concentrate on this role on a full-time basis.
Vanderbilt's intercollegiate athletics teams are nicknamed the Commodores, in honor of the nickname given to Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortune in shipping. The term commodore was used by the Navy during the mid-to-late 19th century. A commodore was the commanding officer of a task force of ships, and therefore higher in rank than a captain but lower in rank than an admiral. The rank is still used by the British Royal Navy and other Commonwealth countries, but the equivalent modern-day rank in the U.S. Navy is rear admiral lower half. Since the term was used most during the 19th century, Vanderbilt's mascot, "Mr. C", is usually portrayed as a naval officer from the late 19th century, complete with mutton chops, cutlass, and uniform.
In addition to Mr. C, Vanderbilt fans often use the cheer "Anchor down!" accompanied by the "VU" hand sign, created by extending the thumb along with the index and middle fingers.
Notable alumni and affiliates include two Vice Presidents of the United States, an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 25 Rhodes Scholars, five Nobel Prize laureates, Fields Medal winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Emmy Award winners, and Academy Award winners.
Vanderbilt has approximately 114,000 living alumni, with 31 alumni clubs established worldwide. Many Vanderbilt alumni have gone on to make significant contributions in politics. Lamar Alexander (B.A. 1962) is a current U.S. Senator, former Governor of Tennessee, former U.S. Secretary of Education, and former U.S. presidential candidate; he filled the Senate seat left vacant by the retirement of Fred Thompson (J.D. 1971). Two U.S. vice presidents, John Nance Garner and Al Gore, attended the university, but did not graduate. However, Gore's ex-wife, Tipper, is herself an alumna, receiving a master's degree from Peabody in 1975. Other alumni who are or have been involved in politics include former United States Supreme Court Associate Justice and former U.S. Attorney General James Clark McReynolds (B.S. 1882), Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute David Boaz (B.A. 1975), and former White House Chief of Staff John R. Steelman (M.A. 1924). Bill Frist, a cardiothoracic surgeon and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, is a faculty member at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Hiram Wesley Evans, who served as the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan from 1922 to 1939, was also a Vanderbilt graduate.
Within the business world, Vanderbilt alumni have gone on to serve in a number of key leadership roles; alumni include Ann S. Moore (B.A. 1971), former Chairman and CEO of Time Inc.; Doug Parker (M.B.A. 1986), President and CEO of US Airways; and Matthew J. Hart (B.A. 1974), former President/COO of Hilton Hotels. Vanderbilt also has an intimate connection to the contemporary management consulting industry. In particular, the founders of two of the three most prominent management consulting firms graduated with undergraduate degrees from the university. Bruce Henderson, founder of The Boston Consulting Group, graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1937, while Bill Bain, founder of Bain and Company, graduated in 1959 with Phi Beta Kappa honors in history. Jane Silber, the current CEO of Canonical, Ltd., received a graduate degree from Vanderbilt. Thomas W. Beasley, the co-founder of the Corrections Corporation of America, graduated from the Vanderbilt Law School; he has been honored as a "Distinguished Alumni".
Three alumni, biochemist Stanford Moore (B.A. 1935), economist and microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus (Ph.D. 1971), and former Vice President Al Gore have won the Nobel Prize. Four current or former members of the faculty also share that distinction: biochemist Stanley Cohen, physiologist Earl Sutherland, and pioneer molecular biologist Max Delbrück; Nobel laureate and neuroscientist Paul Greengard was a visiting scholar. Alain Connes and Vaughan Jones, both Fields Medalists, are Distinguished Professors of Mathematics at the university. In addition, the university has a rich literary and journalistic legacy. Most notably, the Southern Agrarians were a group of influential American writers and poets in the 1920s and 1930s based at Vanderbilt. Three U.S. Poets Laureate are Vanderbilt alums: Allen Tate (B.A. 1922), Robert Penn Warren (B.A. 1925), and Randall Jarrell (M.A. 1938). Warren later went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and for poetry. Novelists James Dickey (B.A. 1949) and James Patterson (M.A. 1970) also graduated from Vanderbilt. Two well-known sportswriters, Grantland Rice (B.A. 1901) and Fred Russell (B.A. 1927), have a scholarship named after them at the university, and Buster Olney (B.A. 1988) writes for ESPN.com and The New York Times. Journalist David Brinkley attended briefly. Skip Bayless (B.A. 1974), formerly of ESPN First Take, attended Vanderbilt as a recipient of the Russell-Rice scholarship. Willie Geist (B.A. 1997) is a host of MSNBC's Morning Joe. Vanderbilt alumna Hildy Kuryk is the director of communications at Vogue and former senior New York finance consultant for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.
Current Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (B.S. 2005) is also a Vanderbilt alum and was drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. Cutler's teammate and offensive tackle Chris Williams (B.S. 2008) was a first round pick by the Bears in 2008. Vanderbilt also produced the first overall draft picks of Major League Baseball in 2007 and 2015, with David Price and Dansby Swanson, the second overall draft pick of Major League Baseball in 2008 with Pedro Alvarez and the seventh overall draft pick in 2009 with Mike Minor. Price, Alvarez and Minor were drafted by the then-named Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves, respectively. Pitcher Josh Zeid made his major league debut with the Houston Astros in 2013. ESPN basketball analyst Carolyn Peck was a standout member of the Commodores' basketball program from 1985–1988, eventually becoming a head coach and leading the Purdue Boilermakers women's basketball team to a national championship in 1999.
Many of its alumni became involved in the music industry, likely given the university's location in Nashville. Dinah Shore (B.A. 1938), Rosanne Cash (B.A. 1979), Amy Grant (B.A. 1982), and Dierks Bentley (B.A. 1997) are all alumni. Shore later went on to star in a variety of films and radio and television series; other Vanderbilt alumni with Hollywood connections include Academy Award-winners Delbert Mann (B.A. 1941) and Tom Schulman (B.A. 1972) and Joe Bob Briggs (B.A. 1974).