David Shipps and the Economic Development of the Domain

For David Shipps, C'88, and vice president for economic development at the University of the South, growing up as a clergy kid was great preparation for overseeing development of the University's 13,000-acre Domain. Shipps—whose father, the Right Rev. Harry Woolston Shipps, was a graduate of the School of Theology and later bishop of the Diocese of Georgia—saw firsthand how challenging it can be to effect change within an organization that places a high value on tradition. The same reluctance to change that is often found within the Church also exists at institutions of higher learning, where passionate alumni and supporters can be skeptical of efforts that will alter the institution they treasure. "There's a natural desire to cast the places we love best in amber and preserve them exactly as we knew them," Shipps says. "I understand that. I, my father, and my children all went to the University. We are dedicated to the University. But to serve the mission of this place that we love so dearly, we have to allow the University to evolve."

A crucial part of the University's mission, of course, is to attract and retain the best students, faculty, and staff. Doing so requires respecting and preserving the institution’s history while also addressing current needs and preparing for the future. "This translates into making investments that attract the students we seek, strengthen our community, and provide the best possible quality of life for everyone who lives and works in Sewanee," Shipps explains.  “In the 1960s, that meant carving out new roads on the Domain and building houses in and around the community. Today, it means investing in new commercial endeavors in the downtown Village, homes for faculty and staff, and new spaces for our growing community to gather.” In Sewanee, Shipps says, these investments always have two goals. "A financial return, obviously. But equally important are qualitative returns that align with the mission of the University. We are fortunate to have a management team of administrators and governing boards who are committed to achieving both."

Like other universities, Sewanee is aware of the need to move away from reliance on tuition as a primary revenue stream. "There's a demographic cliff on the horizon," Shipps explains. "As a result of the 2008 economic crisis, there will be far fewer 18-year-olds seeking a college education in 2026. Competition between colleges will only get tougher." The college decision process has also evolved. "Entire families are part of the college selection process now," Shipps says, "not just the prospective students. We have to recognize and honor that."

The University is particularly fortunate when it comes to attracting bright students, Shipps believes. "We have a strong identity and relationship to the Church, a fantastic setting on the Cumberland Plateau, a world-class faculty, an engaged student body, and an enviable physical location between Chattanooga and Nashville." In addition, there is a unique aspect of Sewanee that differentiates it from other universities. "The Sewanee community is incredible," Shipps explains, "and having faculty and staff living on campus is a vital part of our mission. That's why we have to make it possible for those talented people to come here, become part of this community, and make their careers here."

Shipps acknowledges that it can be tough to advocate for change in organizations like the Church and Sewanee that are rich in tradition and history. Yet in any beloved institution, there is a point at which preparing for the future requires action. "We are guided by the tenets of responsible stewardship, sustainability, and consensus building," Shipps says. “So, when planning becomes progress, it's truly exciting."