Bendapudi ushers in a new era at the University of Louisville

A new person in the President’s Office at the University of Louisville today, ushering in a new era.  Surely an end to the divisiveness that has plagued the campus for the past three years.

Time to move on.

Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, the 18th President at UofL, was welcomed by approximately 200 students, staff and faculty members to her first day on the job on the steps of Grawemeyer Hall early Tuesday morning. And with that milestone, one transformation is complete, and the vacuum has been filled.

A new day in more ways than one for the school that was founded 220 years ago in 1798. Over the past several months, the University has also selected a new Chief Operating Officer, a new Dean of the Brandeis School of Law, a new Dean of the J.B. Speed Engineering School, in addition to a new Athletic Director and a new Basketball Coach. One of the few key administrative jobs remaining open is that of Provost, who will work side-by-side with Bendapudi on raising the school’s academic profile.

Bendapudi seems to be exactly what the University needs right now, with an impressive background in marketing and fundraising at Kansas University. She obviously appeals to many UofL support groups, with her status as a female, as a person of color,  and with her foreign birth. She has stressed her emphasis on diversity and inclusion at every appearance thus far. 

Especially refreshing is that she embraces a wider definition of diversity than the tired racial themes, including diversity of thoughts and beliefs. That would be a positive direction, considering the negative fallout from liberal mandates at many U.S. universities.

The University had made great strides over the past two decades before getting embroiled in a series of controversies. Some of them the result  of the previous administration’s actions, others stemming from political agendas, others from liberal and conservative differences, and still others from state rivalries. UofL has survived, however, largely because the school means so much to so many people throughout the community and state, and is ready to start moving forward again.

We wish Neeli Bendapudi well, looking forward to some fresh new approaches, using creative and innovative ideas to help the University of Louisville not only survive but become an even more positive influence in our lives.

UofL academic building more spectacular than artist renderings

A view of the new academic classroom facility from the lobby of the adjacent Geoscience Building.

One of the things that had to greatly impress Neeli Bendapudi when she was being considered for the job of President of the University of Louisville was the construction of a new $83 million academic classroom building in the heart of the campus.

Lots of windows and curves, setting the structure apart from all others, enabling spectacular views inside and outside. It’s going to be a magnet for UofL students and faculty all days long and into the evenings.

The south end of the new classroom building.

The architectural renderings were impressive when they were unveiled three years ago but the actual structure will be even more breathtaking. The finishing touches are currently being placed on the four-story, 161,000-square-foot building with a scheduled opening for the 2018 fall semester. 

Lots of fine architecture, including many historic buildings, already on Belknap Campus but this newest one will be the most grandiose of all, reflecting a stunning commitment from past and current leaders at UofL to academic excellence. Features include:

  • 20 state-of-the-art active learning classrooms
  • Student Success Center, which includes Resources for Academic Achievement (REACH), Exploratory Advising, First Year Initiatives and student success coordinators
  • 11 group study rooms
  • Seven seminar rooms
  • A multipurpose teacher space
  • Six chemistry labs
  • Four biology labs
  • Three physics labs and one anthropology-physics lab

Those rooms not only include the state-of-the-art classrooms, but also large public spaces that are purposefully designed to encourage students to stick around between their classes. John Stratton, Senior UofL Architect, describes them as “quasi library spaces.”

There are no TVs, but the lounge areas are furnished with upholstered, comfortable chairs and coffee tables. There are power outlets and connectivity options for phones and laptops.

“The focus is on students learning in groups, working together, sharing information and working with the latest technologies,” said Stratton. “To support that, there are interactive computer systems within the classrooms. It is different from a traditional lecture-style space. It’s more about the interaction between the instructors and students and learning together.”

Stratton likes the wide open space in front of the building, describing it as a sort of metaphor for reaching out to new students.

“There is a great deal of glass and vision in and out of the building. That is to encourage transparency in a number of ways. We wanted a building where you can see the activity happening in the building and, from the inside, you can see what’s happening outside. This is good not only for security reasons, but to show students that we’re transparent and that we care about them,” Stratton said. 

Will he or won’t he? Pitino or not for the Kentucky Oaks

One person was conspicuously missing as the Thoroughbreds worked out early Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs. Conspicuous because he would normally be vying for media attention.

Rick Pitino nowhere to be seen. But there was his horse, Coach Rocks, the  filly he co-owns. Under the watchful eye of local trainer Dale Romans and with jockey Luis Saez in the saddle. Preparing for the Kentucky Oaks.

Sad for her biggest fan.

Odds on Rick Pitino showing up at Churchill Downs could be good (Charlie Springer photo).

Pitino should be here, enjoying all of the Kentucky Derby activities that make Louisville the place to be for celebrities from around the world during the first week in May.

But the University of Louisville basketball coach for 16 years says he isn’t coming back to the city, not as long as David Grissom and John Schnatter are UofL Trustees.

 His horse overtook the favorite Take Charge Paula in her last start, winning by eight lengths in the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 3.  Coach Rocks has been tabbed at 12-1 odds for the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and will be in the No. 2 post position.

Romans isn’t entirely convinced that Pitino will not be in the winner’s circle if Coach Rocks were to finish in first place. “We would love for him to be here,” he said.

Neither is Roddy Valente, the owner of RAP Racing and leading investor in Coach Rocks. “He’s going to Churchill Downs, believe me,” Valente told Bloodhorse Magazine. “He said he was never going back to Kentucky after he lost the job. He can throw that right out the door right now. He’ll be there with me.”

Pitino has been known to do the opposite of what he says he going to do. More often than not.

 

Kroger goes big for UofL in major expansion

A brand new look and a UofL theme for the renovated and expanded Kroger store at Central Station shopping center at the corner of Central Avenue and Third Street.

A far cry from the days when one considered himself lucky to find a University of Louisville shirt at Bacon’s.  

Bird tracks lead shoppers to the Card Wear section.

A new shopping mecca was recently unveiled for fans and students in South Louisville, across from Jim Patterson Stadium. Not totally new, but it’s a major renovation of the Kroger store which features UofL themes throughout the entire facility.

Shoppers are greeted by the Cardinal theme lights in the parking lot at the Central Station Shopping Center. They are greeted by a “Welcome to Kroger In The Ville” at the front door, and an inviting red and black decor throughout the store.

The store reopened a week ago following a one-year $14 million renovation that expanded from 76,000 square feet to 96,000 square feet. A place any Cardinal fan would be proud of, and it features all of the grocery chain’s latest marketing concepts, including a Starbucks, an Eli’s Barbecue, a Wine and Spirits Shoppe, and a scan-as-you-shop system.

Visitors can follow the bird tracks to get to the Card Wear section, which included a wide array of Cardinal merchandise from shirts to accessories. The restaurant, the bakery, the delicatessen were all distinctively marked with UofL signage. The lights at the checkout counter, the staff and even the trash cans are all wrapped in school pride. 

A fun destination, a don’t miss attraction for University of Louisville fans. Should be on the must-see list for prospective students and athletes. A win-win for Kroger and the community.

UofL boards opt for hard ball with Jim Ramsey’s team

Sorry to see members of the University of Louisville and UofL Foundation boards go down the road of filing lawsuits against former President Jim Ramsey and others tied to his administration. Throwing more good money after bad, with little chance of recovering any funds.

The really sad thing is that the individuals filing the lawsuits are people who should know better, and one has to question their collective intent. If the purpose is to harass and embarrass Ramsey while destroying his reputation, they have shifted into overdrive. Having permanently damaged his image over the past two years, they now want to drain his wallet and those of his associates.

So now into foreseeable future, the school will be embroiled in lawsuits against Ramsey, Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino, the former faces of the University. Not to mention Kathleen Smith, his former assistant, Burt Deutsch, who headed the foundation, and former finance officers Michael Curtin and Jason Tomlinson.

What all of the people shared in common was love for the University, having made significant contributions to over the past two decades. Some remaining UofL employees have to be looking over their shoulders with the litigious tendencies of the boards.

No one is saying Jim Ramsey was not without flaws. His unorthodox style of managing finances made him an inevitable target in a key leadership role in the community. Initiate a $2 million forensic audit against any university or organization and a buttload of discrepancies will be uncovered. His first chance to refute the charges will come in a courtroom.

Ramsey’s worst mistake may have been not bowing out early when it became clear that the controversy had created sharp divisions within the original board of trustees. By then the divisiveness had spread to the faculty, the financial supporters, the fans and the community.

The timing of the latest lawsuits is curious, circumventing any improvements the Trustees made in the University’s image with the hiring of a new President, Athletic Director and Basketball Coach. UofL supporters and fans were daring to feel more optimistic about the school’s future, thinking the worst was behind them. 

Incoming UofL President Neeli Bendapudi must now begin her new administration on May 15, seeking to rebuild the school’s public image and financial resources against a backdrop of recurring ugly news updates about possible trials and reminders of how the University’s current Trustees turned on the previous leadership. With so many lawsuits, the damaging news will be ongoing.

One has to hope that Neeli Bendapudi is not having second thoughts about her decision after the latest actions of the board members. They have made taking the job much more challenging while greatly extending the time required to restore the University’s reputation. It’s going to be a long haul.

*   *   *

While Jim Ramsey may have been accused of depleting University resources during his 15-year tenure as UofL President, those same people would have to admit that the school made some unprecedented achievements during that time.

He was also generous to the school, giving more  than a half million dollars in contributions to the University. A response to an Open Records Request from UofL indicates that Ramsey and his wife Jane gave a total of $552,259 to UofL from Dec. 21, 2001, through Dec. 30, 2016.

This does not include gifts given by others in their honor or matching gifts, only including money out of their own pockets — or an average of $100.61 per day over 15 years.

They gave almost $214,000 to student scholarships through the Ramsey Scholarship Fund, plus $180,000-plus to the School of Medicine, $91,162 to the Speed School, $21,035 to athletics and $13,050 to the College of Arts & Sciences, among others.

Some may question or impugn his management style, but his track record of contributions to UofL is unassailable.