The Last Word: Nicholas Zeppos ’79

nzChancellor,  Vanderbilt  University

Describe your current job.
I have often said the definition of a great chancellor is a dilettante masquerading as a polymath. Like most academic research universities, Vanderbilt is a multilayered, complex organization. I work with a strong team of senior leaders to ensure the daily operations of our 10 schools and colleges, and the clinics and hospitals that make up our academic medical center, are strategically fulfilling our mission of advancing education, research, and health care to best serve and benefit society.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
I continue to teach a class each semester and am fortunate to work with many bright young people. To spend time with students and really see the lights go on as we discuss a new concept is a profound experience.
What is the biggest challenge facing higher education?
Considering the broader state of discourse in higher education and the many challenges, it is a challenge in and of itself to narrow it down to one! Dwindling federal support for research, intense scrutiny and criticism of the high cost of education, and ballooning student debt are all very serious concerns.

What do you see as the role and value of higher education?
I believe great universities are more and more seen as sources of innovation and discovery and engines of opportunity. Faculty, students, and graduates are stakeholders and drive a university’s mission of serving society and the greater world through education, research, and healing.

Who was your favorite UW Law professor and why?
That’s tough to answer. I have to list three: Willard Hurst, Bob Gordon, and Mark Tushnet. Willard Hurst was legendary and didn’t give us any reason to doubt that. Bob Gordon and Mark Tushnet were in the early stages of great careers.
What is your most prized possession?
I am a carnivorous reader with broad interests, so I would have to say my library of beloved books.

Karen Koethe compiled and edited this interview.