LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Neeli Bendapudi, the provost at the University of Kansas, was named the next president of the University of Louisville on Tuesday.

Bendapudi, a 54-year-old native of India, becomes U of L’s 18th president and the first female and person of color to hold the position.

“I could not pick a better place to call home for hopefully a long, long time,” said Bendapudi, flanked by her husband, adult daughter and son-in-law at a press conference shortly after U of L’s board of trustees voted to hire her.

Bendapudi succeeds James Ramsey, who oversaw a building boom that transformed the university from a “commuter school” into a more traditional campus, while raising the institution’s academic profile and research funding.

Bendapudi promised Tuesday to bring a “culture of openness, a culture of trust” and to be “incredibly accessible” to students, faculty and staff.

“I wish I could say there will never be scandal anywhere. But the way you avoid it is to … set the tone,” Bendapudi said. “I am big believer – culture is what you tolerate… people talk a good game, but what will you allow to happen under your watch?”

Bendapudi, who starts May 15, will be paid $775,000 a year in the first two years of her five-year contract, board of trustees Chairman David Grissom said. That includes a $650,000 salary and $125,000 bonus that is guaranteed for the first two years, he said.

The bonus will be awarded at the discretion of the trustees in the remaining three years of the deal depending on Bendapudi’s performance, he said.

In a series of secret meetings conducted over the last two weeks, the board interviewed six candidates, Grissom said. When it came down the final two, Bendapudi was the “strong favorite” and the other finalist – a man at a different university – withdrew from consideration last week, Grissom said.

Bendapudi takes over at a precarious time for U of L. The university has hobbled along the last two years with a historic number of high-level administrative vacancies.

Its basketball program has been rocked by recruiting and sex scandals that led to the firing of the head coach and athletics director and the retroactive revoking of the team’s 2013 national championship.

Pledges of new gifts to U of L totaled only $43.4 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2017 – a nearly 50 percent drop from two years earlier – and have continued to lag in the current fiscal year.

Despite that, Bendapudi likened U of L to a “diamond with mud smeared on it,” and said its best days remain ahead.

Bendapudi has spent most of her career as a marketing professor, beginning at Texas A&M University and moving the Ohio State University. She was also chief customer officer at Huntington National Bank from 2007-2008.

Bendapudi’s academic research deals with “consumers’ willingness and ability to maintain long-term relationships with firms and the brands and employees that represent them,” according to a U of L press release.

She joined Kansas as the dean of its business school in 2011 and became provost and executive vice chancellor in July 2016.

As the business dean, Bendapudi helped raise $198 million in total gifts and “oversaw an expansion of the school’s academic programming, and guided the school to gains in national rankings,” Kansas Chancellor Douglas A. Girod wrote in a message announcing her departure on Tuesday.

As provost – the university’s top academic officer – Bendapudi “prioritized retention and graduation rates, faculty and staff development, and our university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Girod wrote.

Bendapudi said she intends to make U of L the last stop in her career, though she added, "you never know."

"I have every intention of being here for the long term; that is my sincere opinion," she said. "Because change, as we have all said – this is not going to happen overnight. We have lots of challenges that we need to work through."


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