UofL President Neeli Bendapudi has big hopes for university

08/10/2018 11:46 AM

LOUISVILLE- After years of scandals, the University of Louisville hopes new President Neeli Bendapudi can begin to restore the troubled reputation.

Bendapudi was named president in April and assumed the role in May 2018. In taking this role, Bendapudi became the first woman and ethically diverse to lead the university. While this feat is an inspiration for women and minorities alike, Dr. Bendapudi hopes that in the future, this is not something that is so unique.

“My hope is that very quickly we have so many that people realize you cannot put a person of any identity into one box. We are not homogeneous, there is so much variance within,” Bendapudi said. “That’s how I would answer that at this point, I feel humbled, I feel grateful that I have the opportunity.”

During the past couple of years, UofL has made headlines for reasons aside from its academics. Despite the challenges the university faces, Bendapudi says the academic bones of the university are something to be excited about.

“Our best days are ahead of us, if we can make sure we create a climate that everyone feels responsible, that it’s not just the one leader, the one person, that everyone takes that pride, and says this is my university. and we are going to make sure we have chance to showcase the incredible things we are doing for our students.” she said.

Since coming to Louisville, Bendapudi has been very visible in the community, making frequent appearances at events throughout the city. The community has been encouraging, Bendapudi says.

“People are rooting for us, they want us to do well, and that’s a very comforting feeling, that’s a boost of energy for a new president.”

It has not been all sunshine and roses for the first time president, however. Just months after assuming the role, Bendapudi was forced to deal with her first mishap. After reports surfaced that former University of Louisville Board of Trustee member John Schnatter used a racial slur while on a media training call, Bendapudi wasted no time in dealing with the scandal. University officials promptly announced they would rename the university’s football stadium Cardinal Stadium, removing “Papa John’s.”

“We realized there were legal consequences but felt it was the right thing to do,” Bendapudi explained. “It’s one of those things where leaders have to exercise their best judgement and to me, it made sense to move quickly.”

Budget

Another tough aspect the president has had to deal with is dwindling funds, as the state legislature allocates less money to the universities in the commonwealth. The 2018-20 biennium budget hit schools hard, forcing them to make a 6.25 percent cut across the board. To combat those cuts, the university had cut costs throughout the university in several areas, including increasing student tuition by 4 percent.

The increase in tuition comes after reports that embattled former President James Ramsey was the highest paid university president in 2016-17. Increasing tuition while paying administrators exuberant amounts of money usually doesn’t play well to a group who will be riddled with student loan debt for several years to come. Bendapudi believes students will realize that was the university from the past.

“What I’m going to do is do my very best every year to make it a better experience for the students,” she said. “I want you to know that the team that I now have, everybody is keenly aware of the pressures on students, and we are going to do our best to make sure we continue to be accessible. That we are affordable, and above all that every student is better off for having come here.”

While the state legislature cut funding from universities, a $31 million performance-based funding was created to help schools. The University of Louisville was able to secure $2.5 million in funding from the state. While the cuts for the university are still in place, the extra money will likely go toward students and student retention.

The university was also forced to cut 1.7 percent from employee and faculty salaries and wages, but Bendapudi says at this point there are no plans to lay off employees.

“You should never say never, because you never know what happens. But not at this time,” she said. “We want to do everything at this time, to be mindful of how we move forward.”

Fall classes begin August 20.

Michon Lindstrom

Michon is a producer for Pure Politics. Michon comes to Kentucky from Springfield, Illinois where she served as the statehouse reporter for the NBC affiliate. During her time in the Land of Lincoln she covered the state’s two year budget impasse and the largest school funding overall in Illinois history. Pure Politics airs weeknights at 7 and 11:30 on Spectrum News. Follow Michon on Twitter at @MichonLindstrom or reach her by email at michon.lindstrom@charter.com

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