Home » Part I The University and Its Governance » Chapter 1: About Vanderbilt University

Chapter 1: About Vanderbilt University

Section A

Vanderbilt University is an independent, privately supported university founded in 1873 through a gift from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Born of modest means and not formally educated, Commodore Vanderbilt built a fortune from steamboat lines and railroads. The endowment of the University was his only major philanthropy, and his hope was that Vanderbilt would “contribute to strengthening the ties that should exist between all sections of our common country.”

Bishop Holland N. McTyeire, whose wife was a cousin of Vanderbilt’s second wife, Frank Armstrong Crawford, was leading a movement within the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to establish “an institution of learning of the highest order.” In 1872, a charter was issued to petitioners representing nine Methodist conferences located in the mid-South for “Central University” in Nashville. However, their efforts failed for lack of financial resources in a region so recently ruined by the Civil War. In early 1873, Bishop McTyeire traveled to New York to seek medical care, and the Vanderbilts offered their hospitality for his convalescence. Prior to the trip, the Bishop had reportedly discussed the possibility of gaining financial support from the Commodore in letters to his wife, Frank Armstrong Crawford. She is credited for laying the groundwork for the gift. During his stay in New York, Bishop McTyeire was able to gain the admiration and financial support of the Commodore in the amount of one million dollars to endow Vanderbilt University. Himself unschooled, Vanderbilt once said, “though I never had any education, no man has ever felt the lack more than I have, and no man appreciates the value of it more than I do and believes more than I do what it will do in the future.”

Commodore Vanderbilt, who never visited Nashville himself, entrusted Bishop McTyeire to choose the site for the campus and administer the institution. At that time, Nashville had a population of 40,000, and the campus was part cornfield with a few residences scattered on the site. The Bishop himself planted young trees over the original seventy-five acre campus and supervised the planning and construction of the buildings. Vanderbilt University opened for classes in October of 1875 with 192 students enrolled. Since then, the University has grown to 316 acres with more than 10,000 students, and it has been designated a national arboretum–a legacy of Bishop McTyeire’s early efforts.

Section B
Colleges and Schools

Vanderbilt University comprises ten schools offering undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, education and human development, engineering, and music and a full range of graduate and professional degrees. The University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is a member of the Association of American Universities.

The College of Arts and Science, founded in 1873, offers the Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science.

The Blair School of Music, once an independent music school that merged with the university in 1981, offers the Bachelor of Music.

The Divinity School was established in 1875 as the Biblical Department and operated under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, from its opening until May 1914. Since that date, it has carried on as an ecumenical theological school under the direction of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, who in 1915 officially established it as The Divinity School with its own dean and faculty. The Divinity School offers the Master of Theological Studies and the Master of Divinity.

The School of Engineering, established as a full department in 1886, offers the Bachelor of Engineering, the Bachelor of Science, and the Master of Engineering.

The Graduate School, an early priority of the University which offered doctoral programs within the first ten years of its founding, offers the Master of Arts, the Master of Arts in Teaching, the Master of Liberal Arts and Science, the Master of Science, and the Doctor of Philosophy.

The Law School, founded as one of the original departments of the University, offers the Doctor of Jurisprudence.

The School of Medicine conferred its first diplomas in 1875 as part of an agreement with the University of Nashville Medical School. It continued to use the University of Nashville facilities until moving to Vanderbilt’s main campus area in 1925. The School of Medicine offers the Doctor of Medicine, the Master of Public Health, and the Master of Clinical Investigation.

The School of Nursing, with a history dating to 1909, offers the Master of Science in Nursing.

The Owen Graduate School of Management, established in 1969, offers the Master of Business Administration.

Peabody College traces its roots to Davidson Academy, organized in 1785, eleven years before the founding of the state of Tennessee. It operated as an independent professional school of education from 1875 until its merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. The Peabody College of Education and Human Development offers the Bachelor of Science, the Master of Education, the Master of Public Policy, and the Doctor of Education.

Section C

Vanderbilt University is governed by a Board of Trust which appoints the Chancellor as the Chief Officer. The University’s other administrative officers serve at the pleasure of the Chancellor and include the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, the Vice Chancellor for Investments and Treasurer, the Vice Chancellor for Administration and Chief Financial Officer, the Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs, and the Vice Chancellor for Student Life and University Affairs and General Counsel. Each of the ten schools of the university is led by a Dean who reports to the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs in the case of the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing or to the Provost in all other cases.