Neeli Bendapudi is back home on the Kansas University campus, the school where her father earned a doctorate, the place where she and her husband lived as students in the chancellor’s guest house, and the only place where she’d consider taking a job away from her posting as a marketing professor at Ohio State University.
That’s because now, Bendapudi — who grew up in India and who earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Andhra University there — is starting her first year as dean of KU’s School of Business, the academic institution from which she earned a doctorate of her own in 1994.
Not that there’s any pressure or anything.
“I cannot mess up,” she said recently, in a conference room at Summerfield Hall. “My family has seven degrees from KU, so not only will I be responsible to all … alumni, but in those alumni will be my own family: my husband, my father, my sisters.
“This is where my heart is.”
Bendapudi says she’s looking forward to getting going at KU, in Lawrence and throughout the entire community of the business school — a far-reaching network of students, faculty, staff, alumni, plus those whose operations and endeavors benefit from their work.
And helping them all, she says, comes by pursuing a simple set of goals.
“I want to make this the best place for students to learn,” she said. “And that would mean that it has to be the best place for faculty and staff to work. And if we manage to do those two, that will automatically make us the best place for our community, for the state of Kansas and for alumni to invest.
“Pretty simple: Those are the three things I want to accomplish.”
She would like to see the school be able to replace Summerfield with a new building, a “signal of quality” that would allow the school to be even more competitive when attracting students and recruiting faculty.
“We need to become a place that people want to invest (in),” she said. “This is not fundraising. It’s not even friendraising. That, to me, really sounds too much like, ‘What are we looking for from you?’
“I want people to look and our business school and say, ‘That is where I will invest, because I will see the returns. I will be proud to put my name on that building. I’ll be proud to sponsor this program for the students.’ Definitely, that is something I want.”
Bendapudi said she has no immediate plans for changes or additions involving coursework or degree programs at KU’s Edwards Campus.
“It certainly is an incredible opportunity,” she said, of the campus in Overland Park. “It’s so close to Kansas City. We cannot turn a blind eye to that, and it looks like we have room there. It’s an opportunity for our students, but what would the implications be for the MBA program here versus there? It’s too preliminary. I don’t really know enough to really speak to that.”
Bendapudi promises to work diligently to rebuild trust, after a group of graduate students last year questioned the school’s expenditures of $31 million in revenue generated through differential tuition — additional tuition paid by students, to benefit students.
“This has nothing to do with whether there was something that was wrong or not,” she said. “We can debate that. … But there’s a perception, which means there has been an issue that we need to work on. I intend to do that by being open, with any student at any time — to reach out, to have them let me know what they want to talk about. …
“We are a public school. We belong to the public. We belong to the state of Kansas. And we need to be good stewards, and we need to make people proud of us.”