By Sam Combest —

Sept. 17, University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi kicked off the U of L Yearlings Club fall forum series where she discussed her goals for the university and the relationship with west Louisville. Kentucky Sen. Gerald Neal moderated this event.

“A big part of what drew me to this university was the opportunity to make a difference,” Bendapudi said.

Neal and Bendapudi opened the event by talking about Bendapudi’s personality and how quickly she pulls in crowds with her expressive and charismatic persona.

Bendapudi addressed her stance regarding how she aims to create a welcoming, inclusive and increasingly diverse campus.

“We don’t tolerate diversity, we don’t treat it as something we have to do, we are unabashedly going to celebrate diversity,” Bendapudi said.

Bendapudi said U of L is opening a West-end building in October that will host art, film and anthropology classes.

“The whole idea there is to bring the university into the community,” Bendapudi said.

Bendapudi said it’s hard for an outsider to come in ready to change things.

“As a new person, I feel it is disrespectful for me to come in and say I’ll do this, and I’ll do that. What I have learned is I need to learn more and say, ‘What is it that you need me to do? What would you like to see me do?’ I am hoping to open it up to you, the community, for ideas,” she said.

Bendapudi said she wants to foster genuine community engagement and is actively encouraging the community to discuss their needs and what areas she and the university can make the biggest difference on.

She touched on the money U of L stirs up around Louisville, and how the university acts as an “economic engine” for the community.

“Where do we buy as a university? We are an economic engine, it might not be gigantic, but to say there are opportunities for people in west Louisville and the businesses here, we need to look into partnering with businesses in some way,” she said.

Bendapudi shared a new creation of hers: the CARDINAL Principles.

Each letter represents one of Bendapudi’s values she hopes to emphasize on and around campus. She went into detail on what she considered the most important letters.

C was for “community of care.”

“I don’t care who you are, what identity you hold. If you are ready to put on that red and black, you’re ready to put on that cardinal pin, you’re ready to throw up an L, you belong just as much as anyone,” Bendapudi said.

A was for “accountability.” Bendapudi said at U of L she will hold administrators to the high levels of accountability the community deserves.

R stood for “respect.” “Irrespective of your position, we need to respect one another. It doesn’t matter what job you hold, it doesn’t matter what you do, as a human being here is a dignity and respect we must offer to one another,” Bendapudi said.

“We also want to be respectful of one another irrespective of our positions, we need to be in a place where if we disagree we need to have fundamental respect towards one another.”

D stood for “diversity,” and I for Integrity. and N for “noble purpose.”

A was for “agility.” Bendapudi said universities don’t do a great job of being agile, something she hopes to improve at U of L.

“L for leadership,” she said.

Bendapudi said when it comes to creating a welcoming, diverse and inclusive campus environment, it starts with leadership. She reminded the audience that it is not just up to her.

“It is not up to one person who can make a difference. My job as a leader is to set the tone and say what we will tolerate and what we will not tolerate,” Bendapudi said. She said it’s up to others to follow in her footsteps or provide constructive feedback.

Bendapudi closed the chat by discussing her vision for the university. She said by putting students first, U of L will ensure it’s a great place to learn.

She said the university should also be a great place to work for faculty and staff.

“It’s been a tough time for them, I need to look out for them,” Bendapudi said.

She said when those two fall in line, people in the community will see U of L as a great place to invest.

Photo by Sam Combest / The Louisville Cardinal