Like many universities, Vanderbilt maintains a residence for its chancellor. But today, the house, valued at over $6.5 million according to the Davidson County Property Assessor’s office, serves as nobody’s permanent mailing address.
National attention was focused on the residence in 2006, when a Wall Street Journal article highlighted former Chancellor Gordon Gee’s unmonitored spending spree. Gee allegedly spent $6 million, not approved by the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, on renovations to the mansion. His popularity, coupled with the $1.25 billion raised during his stay as chancellor, was believed to save him from public criticism as many chose to overlook the issue.
“We paid for that house over and over and over again (from money raised at functions hosted at the house),” Gee told the Wall Street Journal.
Yet when Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos replaced Gee in 2008, he chose not to live in the controversial mansion.
“I already had my own house,” Zeppos said. “We’ve lived there for 30 years. ... We like it there. That’s where we raised our children, our kids grew up and went to college, and when they come back they like the idea of being in their own space, their old bedrooms, things like that.”
Zeppos’ decision to live in his own home eliminates excessive wear on the residence and has resulted in lower operating expenses.
“There is no chef, no cleaning staff — it is a university building,” Zeppos said. “If the grass has to be mowed, someone goes out and mows it just like they would on Alumni Lawn.”
Zeppos explained that the mansion is currently used for various functions, ranging from student and community events to faculty receptions and banquets.
Some aspects, such as food, have changed drastically since the days of Braeburn’s personal chef. Zeppos recalled what he described as one of the “wildest and craziest” parties ever held in the house.
“I’ll never forget the first course. It was soup, but it was served in cabbage bowls. Literally, cabbage cut in half with a hole scooped out filled with soup,” he said.
Since that time, all catering at the Chancellor’s Residence has been changed to in-house offerings.
“I like to have nice food,” he said, “but I think we always have to be alert to how much something costs, so all the catering and all the food is Vanderbilt’s. We have no outside caterers ... although it is great food.”
For many years, one student lived at Braeburn — the small coach house adjacent to the Residence served as the home of the president of the Student Government Association. But this trend doesn’t appear to be returning any time soon.
“(The coach house) is in total disrepair, so if the winner of the next presidency says they want to live in the coach house, well, it isn’t habitable,” Zeppos said.
Gee justified the residence’s renovations and decor by explaining how a home with a large area for entertaining is an important fundraising tool.
“(I have not) sat down with a ledger,” Zeppos said, “(but) everyone’s goal is that the residence should work for the faculty, staff, students and alumni — it’s a wonderful place to entertain and make people feel special about their relationship with Vanderbilt.”