Running a University in the Age of Trump

Running a University in the Age of Trump

730 views

The decisions a chancellor has to make were never the easy ones. As Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos told me, “if everyone agreed, the decisions wouldn’t get to me.”

Nevertheless, I wondered if the election of Donald Trump had changed things. The Chancellor must now cope with events he couldn’t have foreseen: possible mass deportations and Muslim registries, a travel ban on seven countries from which the university draws students, and an appalled campus pleading for him to take a stand. He was hired to be Chancellor, not a politician. In the age of Trump, does he now have to be both?

I met with Chancellor Zeppos to ask him. On the day of our meeting he was in high spirits, although it is my impression that he nearly always is. He repeatedly offered me refreshments. He joked with Claire, VPR’s photographer (“Do you want me to sit in my official chair with the high back? It’s both old and new—kind of like Vanderbilt”). When we finally got down to it, I asked him about his recent “political” statements regarding Sanctuary Campuses and the executive order.

“I find it incorrect for people to say ‘you’re acting politically,’” he said. “I’m standing up for what the university stands for. I do it on rare occasions. And I’ll continue to do it. I’ve done it in the past and I’ll do it in the future.”

The Chancellor says that his statements, as well as his decision to join 16 peer institutions in filing an amicus brief against the executive order, were not motivated by politics but by values—Vanderbilt’s values, America’s values, and, most of all, the value of education—all of which he worries are under threat. You’d expect the leader of a university to hold strong beliefs on education, but for Chancellor Zeppos an education isn’t just valuable; it’s the key to everything, from his own life to America’s standing in the world.

At last year’s commencement and again in his Sanctuary Campus statement, Chancellor Zeppos told the story of his paternal grandfather, John Zeppos, who immigrated to the United States from Greece in the 1920s. His first attempt at citizenship was denied because he was deemed ignorant of American government. His second attempt was accepted because two men, a merchant and a molder, signed his citizenship petition as witnesses, testifying to his “good moral character.” For his own signature, his grandfather had scrawled an X. Recently seeing the petition for the first time, Zeppos realized that his grandfather had been illiterate. He, the leader of an elite university, was only two generations removed from an illiterate Greek immigrant, someone who had once been denied citizenship and eventually gained it only through the goodwill of others. Some students, upon reading this story in Zeppos’ November 28th statement, discounted it as a diversion in lieu of taking an actual stand, but I have no doubt the story is genuinely meaningful for the Chancellor. “It’s hard,” he says, “to put [the petition] in a box in your closet and not think about it when you do your job.”

Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos

Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos

For him, that petition was a testament to the value of education. Education allowed him to live beyond the world of basic survival and in the world of ideas, something his grandfather, in his short, hard life, never got to do. It was also a lesson in goodwill, especially towards “the Other.” Without that goodwill, John Zeppos and his family, as well as so many other immigrant families, would never have realized their American dream. Without it, Nicholas Zeppos wouldn’t be here today.

In Zeppos’ eyes, education is not just important to the success of the individual. It’s vital to the health and standing of the country. “We can argue about how America is ‘Number One.’ But there’s no doubt American research and American [universities] are the best in the world.” It is America’s values—”freedom, scientific rigor, innovation, entrepreneurship”—that have enabled its universities to thrive. The Chancellor recounted a conversation he had with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, a country with massive oil reserves. According to the Chancellor, the Crown Prince revealed to him that what he truly wanted, but what had thus far eluded him, was a university system like that in the U.S. He wanted the humanities and liberal arts, for students to study poetry and political science. Can you imagine, the Crown Prince asked, what it’s like to have all of these resources but no great universities? It was a profound lesson. “You can’t buy a great university,” the Chancellor told me. “Universities grow out of the values in the soil and the freedoms. We need to protect that.”

Right now everyone wants to come here, Zeppos said, taking a handful of pens, which he said represented the world’s best students, and placing them on a coaster, representing American universities. We benefit from that. Those students improve education and research. Attracting the best and brightest from around the world ensures that our elite colleges remain elite. Zeppos warns that, if something prevents or dissuades those students from coming, like a travel ban, then they’ll go somewhere else. This will lead to a decline in American universities and, before long, the brightest American students will start looking elsewhere too. And, while those students have the freedom to seek greener pastures, the universities do not. “If I’m a company and I don’t like the local business climate, what do I do? I move. But do we move? No. We never move. We’re always here.” The Chancellor defends American values because, he says, it is those values on which the quality and stature of his university depend.

There are those who think the Chancellor has not gone far enough in his defense of liberal values. Ariana Fowler, the President of Vanderbilt Student Government, felt the Chancellor’s January 29th statement regarding the executive order, which did not explicitly condemn it, was inadequate. She suspected that Zeppos may not have authored the statement, which was uncharacteristic in its brevity. Zeppos said that he did write it, and that he writes almost everything issued in his name.

Fowler quickly wrote her own statement and emailed it to all undergraduate students. The message, which, according to her, was well received, was not only a broad condemnation of the order, but an instruction manual and a bold attempt to add meat to the university’s, and the Chancellor’s, official statement. Fowler, a 20-year-old senior who acts with the confidence and decisiveness of a battlefield general, had no problem steering VSG beyond its traditional role of event planning and into politics. “The Executive Order was more than just a political move,” she said. “it was an immoral and inhumane one—certainly in its execution. When anything is discriminatory or harmful to students, be it political or not, I believe VSG has a role to speak out.”

1S9A7005

VSG President Ariana Fowler

Others also wish the Chancellor would be more forceful. In November, the VSG senate overwhelmingly voted to recommend that Vanderbilt be labeled a “Sanctuary Campus,” and some students I spoke to were angry when Chancellor Zeppos declined to do so. But in this political environment, with congressional Republicans threatening to cut funding to schools that label themselves sanctuaries, the Chancellor argued for practicality over symbolism. “What does it actually mean to be a sanctuary campus?” he asked me, letting the question hang in the air. His implied answer: legally, nothing. The university is not going to cooperate in the deportation or registration of any of its students, he assured me, but it’s also not going to paint a bullseye on itself. Doing so might put students at more risk, not less.

Throughout my conversation with the Chancellor—most of it concerning values and the importance of education—I wondered what he personally thinks of all this. In addition to being a constitutional scholar and former Justice Department lawyer, Zeppos is politically active and has contributed to candidates on both sides of the aisle, from Barack Obama and Jim Cooper to Bob Corker and Rick Perry. (See for yourself—it’s all public record.) When I asked for his thoughts on the constitutionality of the executive order, he played coy.

“Let’s just say that it happens oddly to fall in a space that I know a fair amount about,” he said, chuckling to himself. “I think there are some things that are problematic from a legal point of view. You know it’s not my job, because I don’t sit on the Supreme Court. It’s not my job to advise people, but it’s fun for me because I get to put my constitutional lawyer hat on.”

In talking with the Chancellor I gained a deeper understanding about the nature of his job. Whereas it is the VSG President’s job to advocate for Vanderbilt’s undergraduates, it is the Chancellor’s job to advocate for the whole Vanderbilt community. Liberals on campus, having recently shrugged off Vanderbilt’s reputation for political apathy, want a champion, someone who will preach progressivism from the rooftops of Buttrick, Calhoun, and Cole. They forget that the job of the chancellor is, primarily, that of a diplomat. He must serve diverse factions not only within the student body but also within the faculty, staff, alumni, the board, and the coalition of peer universities that rely on each other. Activists want boldness. Yet, in this environment of anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism, where state and federal lawmakers, and the Trumpian populists running the executive branch, would relish any opportunity to stick it to an ‘ivory tower’ like Vanderbilt, the Chancellor is perhaps wise to pursue a quieter strategy.

In the age of Trump, resistance must take many forms: quiet, loud, from both inside and outside the system. It must be tailored to its specific goal. For Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, that means fighting for research funding, reaffirming the university’s, and the country’s, values, and occasionally speaking out when he feels those values need protection. The Chancellor says that the future of America rests on the strength of its universities, which will remain strong as long as they stay true to core American values. He has a strategy to keep Vanderbilt true, and strong, in these unique times. For the sake of our university, and our country, I hope he succeeds.

About author

Alexander Slawson

Alex Slawson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Vanderbilt Political Review. A senior majoring in political science and economics, Alex is passionate about writing and public policy.

Comments
  • Yeezy Shoes#1

    April 17, 2019

    The European Commission said on Friday that Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler violated antitrust laws and jointly delayed the launch of two emission purification systems between 2006 and 2014. Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s top official in charge of competition, said in a statement that companies can work together to improve products, but can’t agree not to compete for quality.

    Reply
  • Tatyana#2

    April 14, 2019

    I want to begin my own blog site: exist such thing as blogs that are completely “open”, and any person can view it? I maintain involving the kind where you have to include various other “pals” to use the website. Hyperlinks valued. Many thanks!.

    Reply
  • Gerardo#3

    April 12, 2019

    Actually my blog name is not pertinent to my blog site niche. in this time i wish to transform my blog site to an internet site with blog writer. yet i don’t understand if i will do it, then just how much will influence my blog site web traffic?.

    Reply
  • Balenciaga UK#4

    April 12, 2019

    nykvpchtnw,Quality blog, keep up the good work. You may check our website also!

    Reply
  • Yeezys#5

    April 11, 2019

    fzoialgqnme New Yeezy,Thanks for this useful information, Really amazing. Thanks again. I LOve your BloG

    Reply
  • Jordan 12 Gym Red#6

    April 11, 2019

    ifnwusuab,Thanks for sharing such an amazing blog. I am so happy found this informative blog.

    Reply
  • Tractor Workshop Manuals#7

    April 10, 2019

    A blog like yours should be earning much money from adsense..-.,”

    Reply
  • Raymond#8

    April 9, 2019

    I have a blogspot page, How can I traffic the vistors and get their ip address?

    Reply
  • webpage#9

    April 8, 2019

    My computer with itunes crashed, just installed itunes on new computer. How to keep ipod from syncing to it?

    Reply
  • Salomon#10

    April 6, 2019

    hnnrygl,Wonderful one thank you so much !

    Reply
  • Yeezy 350#11

    April 5, 2019

    ipdogqprduf New Yeezy,Quality blog, keep up the good work. You may check our website also!

    Reply
  • yeezy boost#12

    April 4, 2019

    Thank you a lot for giving everyone remarkably special possiblity to read critical reviews from this site. It really is so awesome plus packed with fun for me personally and my office fellow workers to visit your site at minimum 3 times per week to study the latest stuff you will have. And indeed, I’m so certainly motivated for the attractive ideas you give. Selected 3 ideas on this page are definitely the most impressive I’ve ever had.

    Reply
  • fila#13

    April 3, 2019

    I’m also commenting to make you know of the beneficial discovery my cousin’s daughter undergone checking your webblog. She mastered plenty of pieces, which included what it is like to have an awesome helping character to let men and women easily thoroughly grasp a variety of hard to do things. You actually did more than readers’ desires. Thanks for imparting those great, trustworthy, revealing and as well as fun thoughts on that topic to Ethel.

    Reply
  • my web#14

    April 2, 2019

    I just want to say I’m new to blogs and certainly enjoyed you’re blog site. Probably I’m want to bookmark your website . You surely have good articles. Regards for sharing with us your blog.

    Reply
  • Nike Air Max#15

    April 2, 2019

    wemgjms,Thanks for sharing this recipe with us!!

    Reply
  • retro jordans#16

    April 1, 2019

    I enjoy you because of all your hard work on this web site. My daughter loves conducting internet research and it’s obvious why. All of us know all relating to the dynamic form you convey informative steps on your blog and therefore invigorate contribution from other ones about this point while our simple princess is always discovering a lot. Enjoy the rest of the new year. Your carrying out a fabulous job.

    Reply
  • custom baseball jerseys#17

    March 31, 2019

    I wish to show some appreciation to you just for bailing me out of this problem. Because of browsing through the online world and meeting tips which are not productive, I thought my entire life was over. Existing without the answers to the issues you have resolved as a result of your posting is a serious case, and ones that might have in a wrong way damaged my career if I hadn’t noticed your site. Your personal training and kindness in maneuvering all things was very useful. I’m not sure what I would have done if I had not come upon such a subject like this. I can at this point relish my future. Thanks for your time so much for this expert and effective guide. I will not be reluctant to endorse your web page to anybody who needs tips about this situation.

    Reply
  • jordan 6#18

    March 27, 2019

    My husband and i have been really joyful when Peter managed to finish off his reports out of the precious recommendations he discovered from your own weblog. It is now and again perplexing just to find yourself releasing helpful hints that many a number of people might have been selling. And we all do understand we’ve got the writer to be grateful to for that. The type of explanations you’ve made, the straightforward website menu, the relationships your site help instill – it’s many fabulous, and it is making our son and our family do think the content is interesting, which is certainly very important. Thanks for the whole thing!

    Reply
  • michael kors outlet online#19

    March 26, 2019

    Thank you a lot for providing individuals with an extremely brilliant opportunity to read articles and blog posts from this site. It is usually very superb plus stuffed with fun for me personally and my office acquaintances to search your website at least 3 times weekly to see the latest things you will have. And indeed, we’re certainly fulfilled for the spectacular thoughts you serve. Selected 3 tips in this article are ultimately the most effective we’ve had.

    Reply
  • yeezy boost 350 v2#20

    March 25, 2019

    My spouse and i ended up being absolutely glad when Raymond managed to deal with his researching out of the ideas he was given in your web page. It’s not at all simplistic to just always be giving for free information and facts which often some people might have been making money from. And we understand we have the writer to thank because of that. These explanations you’ve made, the simple web site navigation, the relationships you can give support to instill – it is all astounding, and it is letting our son in addition to us imagine that that subject is satisfying, and that’s extraordinarily pressing. Thank you for all!

    Reply
  • goyard handbags#21

    March 25, 2019

    Thanks so much for giving everyone such a special possiblity to check tips from this blog. It is always so great and packed with a lot of fun for me personally and my office colleagues to visit the blog at the least three times in 7 days to see the fresh stuff you have. And indeed, I am just actually fulfilled considering the amazing ideas served by you. Certain 1 areas in this posting are unequivocally the finest we have all had.

    Reply
  • westbrook shoes#22

    March 23, 2019

    I precisely had to appreciate you yet again. I’m not certain the things I might have taken care of in the absence of these methods shared by you concerning this question. It seemed to be a real daunting matter in my circumstances, however , seeing this skilled way you resolved it made me to weep with fulfillment. I am happy for the support and in addition pray you recognize what a powerful job you are always putting in teaching the others via your blog. I know that you’ve never got to know all of us.

    Reply
  • hermes belt#23

    March 21, 2019

    My wife and i have been absolutely fulfilled when Chris managed to round up his survey from the precious recommendations he received through your web page. It is now and again perplexing to just continually be making a gift of secrets and techniques which some people may have been making money from. We see we have the writer to thank for this. The illustrations you made, the simple site menu, the relationships you can make it possible to promote – it’s got all exceptional, and it is leading our son in addition to the family understand that theme is amusing, which is unbelievably vital. Many thanks for the whole lot!

    Reply
  • nike shox for men#24

    March 19, 2019

    Thanks so much for giving everyone an extraordinarily special chance to read articles and blog posts from this blog. It is usually very cool plus stuffed with a good time for me and my office mates to search your blog a minimum of 3 times every week to see the fresh things you have. Not to mention, I am also always fascinated with the brilliant opinions you give. Certain 1 ideas in this article are truly the finest we have all ever had.

    Reply
  • air yeezy#25

    March 18, 2019

    I simply desired to say thanks all over again. I’m not certain the things that I could possibly have taken care of in the absence of the entire solutions revealed by you over my subject. This has been a traumatic difficulty for me personally, nevertheless being able to view this specialized way you handled it forced me to jump with fulfillment. I am just happier for the support and then sincerely hope you find out what a great job you were doing teaching people via your website. I’m certain you have never met any of us.

    Reply
  • kyrie 3#26

    March 18, 2019

    Thanks a lot for giving everyone a very terrific chance to read in detail from this website. It is usually so nice and stuffed with a great time for me and my office co-workers to search your blog on the least three times a week to learn the latest guides you have. And definitely, I am also certainly fascinated with all the exceptional tips served by you. Selected 2 tips in this posting are without a doubt the most suitable I have had.

    Reply
  • balenciaga#27

    March 17, 2019

    I not to mention my guys were found to be viewing the excellent tips and tricks found on the blog and so unexpectedly I got a horrible suspicion I never thanked the web blog owner for them. All the ladies came absolutely warmed to read through all of them and have in actuality been loving those things. Appreciation for getting very kind and then for figuring out some terrific things millions of individuals are really desirous to be aware of. My personal sincere apologies for not expressing appreciation to you sooner.

    Reply
  • air jordan shoes#28

    March 16, 2019

    My wife and i ended up being quite delighted Emmanuel managed to carry out his investigation out of the ideas he grabbed when using the site. It’s not at all simplistic just to choose to be giving for free methods many people have been making money from. So we consider we’ve got the blog owner to give thanks to because of that. These explanations you have made, the simple blog menu, the relationships your site give support to foster – it is all excellent, and it’s leading our son in addition to our family imagine that the subject matter is cool, and that is very serious. Thanks for all!

    Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *