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. 

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.

New President describes UofL as diamond in the rough

“I really believe the best days for the University of Louisville are yet to come. I have no doubt in my mind or I wouldn’t be here.”

The 18th President of UofL, Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, responded enthusiastically when she was asked about taking over a university that has had more than its share of issues over the past two years. 

“And that’s not because of any magic I will bring, or any secret sauce I bring, but I believe in the people here. Our location is unbeatable. We can be such an attractive. I mean, come on, the food, the music, the arts scene, the sports, we have it all. I think it’s a thriving environment, I think it’s a fabulous university, with the calibre of our faculty, our staff and our students.

“Will it be challenging? Probably. But I have talked to a few, very loyal alumni, who are eager to say, ‘How can we help? What can we do?’ So I’m very enthused about the opportunity.

In response to a question about dwindling state funding, Dr. Bendapudi said, “I think that’s a concern of all public universities. Legislators face great pressures so it’s our job to articulate why investment in higher education is one of the best things any region can do for economic development. When you think of what attracts employers, what creates a tax base. Quite frankly, it’s access to talent. Our environment as an urban university positions us uniquely and I have complete confidence that this Legislature and this Governor wants to see the University of Louisville strong and thriving after the period of uncertainty we went through.”

As for past scandals, she said the way to avoid them is a) to set the tone. Culture is what you tolerate. We want to protect the University of Louisville and the Cardinals for the long term. That is the best way to succeed. The second way is to be incredibly accessible to students, faculty and staff. The leader cannot be everywhere but the leader can absolutely set the tone for who we are, what we want to be and what we will not tolerate.”

She also complimented the UofL Board of Trustees, describing it as an exceptional board, the commitment, the care, the calibre of oversight they will bring. “I am very confident that they do not want to do anything that hurts the university. We owe it to our student, our staff, our faculty and certainly to our alumni.”

Quite an outstanding first impression from an accomplished individual and academic who says she plans to be at UofL for the long term. She’s really good with those L signs, too.

Welcome to UofL, Dr. Bendapudi. 

 

Grissom pulls strings at UofL, but mum on aspirations

The Courier Journal’s Andrew Wolfson finally gets around to doing a profile of David Grissom, the Chairman of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. Interesting piece, clearly intended to cast Grissom as an S.O.B. in dealing with UofL’s financial challenges. Providing no clue,  however, about where he wants to take the school.

The timing of the article is curious, appearing in the printed edition on the same day as an op-ed report from the UofL Foundation indicating that all reviews and audits of the foundation were complete. Concluding that “there has never been a better time to invest in the University of Louisville.”

David Grissom assumed the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees in January 2017 when the previous board was dissolved.

Took the C-J long enough, almost an entire year after Grissom assumed the role in January 2017. Not like he’s a newcomer to the community, involved in local business and civic activities over five decades. And the lengthy front page story does not include any direct quotes or recent attributions from the man himself.

The writer has to lean heavily on friends, associates and former business contacts for insights into Grissom personality and operating style. The subject of the article is apparently reluctant to answer calls or be interviewed. No real insights into his thinking and actions.

What would have been helpful would have been some indications about what Grissom wants to achieve. Not that his failure to communicate publicly is the CJ’s fault. Grissom rarely speaks publicly, usually dealing with business associates or fellow board members under controlled conditions.

Grissom, in fact, has never said anything about his aspirations for UofL, either during his public pronouncements at press conferences or during board meetings. Most of his comments deal with financial issues, which are his stock and trade.

Grissom is no newcomer to high education issues, having served for 22 years as Board Chairman at Centre College in Danville. Forbes Magazine recently ranked Centre as 89th among colleges and universities in the U.S., and the best of any Kentucky school.

David Grissom (right) having lunch with Centre College President John Roush at a Frankfort restaurant in December (Card Game photo).

Grissom’s reluctance to communicate a vision for UofL makes him vulnerable to people assigning him motivations, real or imagined. For example, he wanted to conduct the search for a new UofL President on a confidential basis in order to attract the best possible candidate. This made him a target of faculty groups concerned about his intentions, eventually resulting in a compromise that will allow faculty members to participate after signing disclosure agreements. Public forums will  allow other groups to have input.

A sizeable group of people who have invested heavily in UofL athletics over the years is concerned that Grissom wants to de-emphasize sports. Especially following the dismissal of Tom Jurich who made UofL athletics a premier brand during his 20 years as athletic director.

Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra with UofL football player Reggie Bonnafon on Senior Day (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The CJ story indicates that Grissom wants UofL to value academics as much as it does sports. We don’t know if the former athlete at Centre College has ever said that or if that was a reporter putting words in his mouth. A segment of UofL fans is scared, despite the hiring of long-time businessman and fan Vince Tyra as Interim Athletic Director– despite Tyra’s assurances that he wants to maintain UofL athletics as a premier program.

Jack Coffee, who owns the Louisville Rivals operation and published the Louisville Sports Report, says the “change in direction for UofL is an offense to those of us that have given millions to the university.” Coffee has written an Open Letter to Gov.Bevin calling for the Governor to ask Grissom to resign from the board. He also has started a petition drive at an online site, providing a way for other UofL fans to get involved.

This observer has to believe that the last thing the school needs at this point is Governor Bevin reasserting himself in UofL’s business. The school is now off accreditation probation, coming to grips with the financial issues, solidifying the UofL Foundation, and, at long last, beginning the process of conducting a national search for the next President. It has taken a while but a lot has been accomplished under the new board.

Many Louisville leaders believe David Grissom is best qualified to lead the University of Louisville into a new era, with the ability to identify people who can gain national respect for UofL in academic circles, as well as athletics. Grissom can help his cause by clearly and forcefully enunciating his goals for the school.

Right now there is still no clear direction or leadership, with second guessing and speculation filling the vacuum. Until Grissom fills in some of the blanks, or Interim President Greg Postel does it for him, the anxiety will continue, and the University’s future direction will be hindered by controversy and uncertainty.