Division of Public Affairs renamed Division of Government and Community Relations

The division coordinates university advocacy and partnership work, facilitates federal and state relations


Claire Barnett

Downtown Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday, January 20, 2018. (Former Hustler Multimedia/Claire Barnett)

Alexa Bussmann, Content Development Director

The Vanderbilt University Division of Public Affairs was renamed the Division of Government and Community Relations of March 26. The change aims to better reflect the division’s work across all levels of government.

The Division of Government and Community Relations works at the local, state and national levels of government to advocate for Vanderbilt and its interests. The division is led by Vice Chancellor Nathan Green, and includes the Office of Federal Relations, the Office of State Government Relations and the Office of Community Relations.

At the local level, the division focuses on the university’s relationship with the West End neighborhood, specifically concerning the FutureVU initiative.

At the state level of government, Green and his staff work to build relationships with legislators in the Tennessee General Assembly.

“In my line of work, it’s building a relationship so that you can be an advocate for people,” Green said. “And that’s really what I am, I’m an advocate for the university.”

As new legislators are elected every two years, Green works to build relationships with them so that they know about Vanderbilt when they get to Nashville. There are few Vanderbilt graduates in the Tennessee General Assembly, so Green tries to find a Vanderbilt connection.

The Tennessee General Assembly is a part-time legislature, so it is only in session once per year, starting in January and ending around mid-May. While in session, the legislature considers potentially thousands of bills, about 300-400 of which Green and his staff will track. They focus on bills that will affect Vanderbilt University and its students.

At the federal level of government, the Office of Federal Relations works closely with legislative staff to ensure federal funding for research and to advocate for Vanderbilt in regards to pertinent legislation. Rather than directly advocating for legislation, the Office of Federal Relations mostly works to avoid regulations that could be burdensome to the university’s goals and research. The division works through coalitions like the Association of American Universities to accomplish its goals.

Because the United States Congress is a full-time legislature, meaning that it is in session year-round, the division has four full-time staff members in Washington D.C., including Christina West, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations.

“Because of our emphasis on research, because of our partnership with the federal government, because of the ongoing regulatory efforts at the federal level on higher education institutes and so forth, that it’s important to have a permanent, full-time presence in D.C.” Green said.

At each level of government, the Division of Government and Community Relations works to enhance Vanderbilt’s interactions with the public. Its name change reflects the importance of this mission, as a recent economic impact report showed that Vanderbilt has a $9.5 billion impact on the state of Tennessee.

“Our message to policymakers, whether it be at city hall, the state capital, or the halls of congress, is that we’re more than just a private institution off of West End,” Green said. “We’re an economic engine, we’re educating the future leaders, the future doctors, the future engineers, the future entrepreneurs.”