By Shelby Brown —

Though she said she still feels like she’s “between two worlds,” new U of L President Neeli Bendapudi is already planning her first day on campus. In an exclusive interview, Bendapudi told The Cardinal what her schedule will look like.

Bendapudi’s term begins May 15, but she plans to be in Louisville a week early to see that everything is ready to go.

Bendapudi said she’s a firm believer in teamwork.

“My ideal first day would be a chance to visit with some students,” she said.

Bendapudi also hopes to meet with faculty, staff and some alumni.

“It’s an opportunity to connect with different constituents and really get to know the team I’ll be working with whether it’s the people in the administrative building, the president’s office, provost’s office, etc. So, I expect it will be a day of meeting people, getting a lay of the land (and) hopefully some huddle time with the team,” Bendapudi said.

Bendapudi said she will rely on her team to help relay what needs to be done on campus.

“(I’ve learned) the importance of listening to what people want to get done, but at the same time, not promising because trust is so important. You cannot break it at any point. So, I believe in being extremely faithful and saying I’m still listening and coming back with what is doable, when, etc.” Bendapudi said.

Mending fences

From the time the presidential search was announced as closed, to the open forum listening tours, the campus community has voiced distrust towards past and present administration. A key complaint was that the closed search meant administration didn’t value campus voices.

“To me, open lines of communication and transparency are vital. I will be sure to be available to faculty, staff and students (and) engage very early on because it’s not an afterthought. Those are the key constituencies,” Bendapudi said. “For building trust, I think there’s no better substitute than people seeing that you practice what you preach.”

Bendapudi said she’s hoping to engender trust through her actions. She also said it will only happen if she’s continuously reaching out to constituencies.

The search process

Bendapudi said the board was honest about the challenges U of L faced during the interview process. She also said they described opportunities.

“I was very impressed by the questions, by how all of the people involved really pushed on leadership, integrity and vision,” Bendapudi said. “I felt good about it. I’m hoping now is the time for us to say, ‘what next?'”

The battle for higher education

Gov. Matt Bevin’s 2018-19 budget put education on the chopping block. U of L could lose more than $8 million and several programs if the proposal passes. Interim President Greg Postel lobbied in Frankfort after the budget came out. Bendapudi plans to continue the fight.

“I think the thing to do is to lobby for higher education and make sure people across the Commonwealth understand the returns to higher education, which are very high,” she said.

Bendapudi said having a talented work pool is a big factor in attracting new businesses and growing the state. While she said she recognizes the government has to make tough choices, there must be unity.

“We need to be creative in finding other revenue sources, sources for support,” Bendapudi said.

She is also pleased with the number of other leaders in higher education working to save it.

“I absolutely give you my word. To me, it’s putting students first. It’s so important for any university. It’s the purpose for why we exist,” Bendapudi said. “I don’t know what happens along the way to people, but as long as you remain true to the mission and say ‘I’m here to serve,’ I think we’ll be in good shape.”

File photo / The Louisville Cardinal