By Megan Brewer —
Summer may have been a relaxation time for many students, but it wasn’t for our new president Neeli Bendapudi.
In her first four months at U of L, Bendapudi has already demonstrated she’s going to make changes when the changes need to be made for students.
One of her first calls to action was resolving a problem for students involving commencement programs. Students’ names were going to be left off the programs until Bendapudi said every student should be recognized.
Not long after, Bendapudi removed Papa John’s name from the football stadium after John Schnatter’s admitted use of racial slur. It didn’t even take two days for her to announce the decision and within weeks it was removed.
She showed when a problem arises, she’s not going to wait to fix it and she’s going to fix it with students’ best interest in mind.
In the recent past, some would say the university has lost sight of students, along with staff and everyone else surrounding U of L. The lack of transparency and closed doors have caused a lack of trust that will take time and effort to earn back. Bendapudi is doing everything to earn back that trust.
“If I’m the only one that knows whats going on, if I’m the only one that holds the cards, if we have not shared information with people, you get bad decisions faster,” Bendapudi said in an interview with The Cardinal. “To get good decisions, you’ve really got to share with people, so then they can bring their wisdom. In my mind, it’s a great way to enhance accountability, and provide better solutions.”
Hopefully Bendapudi sticks to this mentality, because U of L needs a president that doesn’t shut out the people.
The only change Bendapudi has made that students may not be happy about is the recent 3.5 percent tuition increase, which means students will pay about $400 more this year.
“I ask for your patience and support as we make changes to strengthen the university while dealing with our fiscal reality,” she wrote in an email about the increase.
A tuition increase isn’t what any student at U of L wanted, but I’m still optimistic Bendapudi is looking out for students.
SGA president Jonathan Fuller said he believes Bendapudi will do great things in the future for students.
“I think that Dr. Bendapudi is amazing. She is so genuine and brings so much positive energy to the university. She is also very student-centered and I am grateful for that,” Fuller said. “I believe that she has already done good things for the university. As soon as she was announced, I felt like there was a boost in morale.”
Our new president is proving that she plans to be around the students rather than in an office somewhere or off campus.
We’ve already seen Bendapudi interact with students even before her first day as president. The day she got hired, she stopped to talk to a group of incoming freshmen that were touring campus.
On her first day as president, she went to a baseball game in her Cards gear. She even bared the rain to help incoming freshmen on move-in day.
Bendapudi should aim for earning back the trust of faculty, staff and students, which is something she’s well aware of.
“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 had a big impact on students at her former school, University of Kansas, where she served as provost.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen about Neeli at Kansas University is how charismatic and personable she is. She introduces herself to every student she comes across, has conversations with them and usually remembers them when she sees them again. It’s kind of a rare thing at KU, so that’s something I’ve always appreciated,” then University Daily Kansan Editor-in-Chief Chandler Boese said in an email.
If Bendapudi keeps her word and continues to put students first as she has already, she may just be the person U of L has needed for years.
“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.”
We’re all hoping Bendapudi keeps her word and continues to support students as strongly as she already has.
“We’re putting a lot of things in place, and this is where, in terms of transparency, our students can help. Every Cardinal should look out for one another,” Bendapudi said. “When you look at why students leave or why can they not succeed, and whatever it is, its narrowed down to three issues: One is financial, one is academic and one is a sense of belonging. What we want to do is work on all three and we have lots of things in place.”
U of L desperately needs a president that offers the transparency and honesty others in the past haven’t. We need a president that finds solutions, puts the right people first in line and wants nothing but the best for our university.
I have high hopes Bendapudi will be that president for many years to come.
File photo / The Louisville Cardinal