Saturday Column: New provost has vision, drive to re-energize KU

Next week, Neeli Bendapudi will be moving into her new position as provost and executive vice chancellor of Kansas University. She has been dean of the KU School of Business for five years and has done an outstanding job of reinvigorating the school, improving faculty morale, inspiring students and encouraging alumni and friends to be generous in their fiscal support.

From the time she arrived on the campus, she has made it clear the business school deserved and needed a new building if it was to grow in stature and attract outstanding students and faculty. She was the No. 1 cheerleader for the school and, with her amazing energy, optimism and vision, she led the effort to raise more than $60 million to build the new Capitol Federal Hall to house the business school.

Without Bendapudi, there would not be a new building!

During her deanship, she described her students, as well as all KU students, as “customers” of the university and said it was up to her and others in administrative positions to provide a product and experience that merited the support and approval of those “customers” (and their parents).

She exuded enthusiasm and energy and was an extremely effective spokesman for her school, its faculty and its role and importance to the university and the state.

Her move from her attractive office in the stunning new business school building to Strong Hall could not come at a more opportune and critical time.

Although her primary responsibilities will revolve around the academic side of KU, she also will play a major role in re-energizing the entire university.

With her relentless energy, Bendapudi is sure to touch all facets of the university and will work to create a true team environment among faculty, students and administrators, as well as alumni, friends, state legislators and the governor’s office.

There were three finalists for the KU provost job and each candidate noted that KU needed to do a far better job in telling its story. In fact, other than working through the challenges presented by the state’s fiscal crunch and how this impacts the university, the No. 1 challenge, according to the candidates, is for the school to do a far better job in telling its story.

It’s been doing a poor job, and, as the state’s flagship academic institution and the state’s only member of the Association of American Universities, KU has the responsibility to deliver a powerful and effective message relative to the importance of proper funding for higher education, particularly a comprehensive research university.

Bendapudi’s special touch, which worked so well at the business school, is badly needed in Strong Hall. An individual who gets things done, who introduces new practices and policies is bound to step on toes, particularly those of people who don’t share the energy and motivation to accept and endorse new expectations.

Some in such an environment are set in their ways and may refuse to join a new team led by a dynamic, tireless worker. Bendapudi may encounter some of those in Strong Hall, but, if these naysayers check with business school faculty, they will find believers of the “Neeli method.”

One area where Bendapudi is sure to bring about major improvements is in the university’s relations and respect among state legislators, many of whom have been extremely critical of the actions and manner of too many KU spokespeople and representatives. Bendapudi will deliver a new, exciting KU message to state legislators and those serving on the Kansas Board of Regents.

It’s not going to be an overnight turnaround, but it will be almost like turning on a light in a dark room. Strong Hall, the entire campus, legislators, regents, KU alumni and fans and those loyal to other schools are going to see a new KU with Bendapudi in the provost’s office.

It’s the beginning of a new, exciting time on Mount Oread that will become contagious and spread throughout the Jayhawk Nation.