Penn State Hires First Woman, Person of Color to Head School

Neeli Bendapudi speaks during a meeting of the Penn State Board of Trustees, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in State College, Pa. The Penn State Board of Trustees voted Thursday to hire Bendapudi as president. She's first woman and first person of color to serve in that role for Penn State. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Associated Press

December 9, 2021

Neeli Bendapudi, a native of India, is currently the University of Louisville’s president. She’ll take over as Penn State’s next president in June.

The Penn State trustees on Thursday named the University of Louisville’s president Neeli Bendapudi to succeed Eric Barron as the school’s top administrator.

The unanimous board vote to hire Bendapudi makes her the first woman and first person of color to serve as the 98,000-student institution’s next president.

Bendapudi, 58, is a marketing professor whose research involves consumer behavior. 

She became Louisville’s president three years ago. 

Barron, retiring in June, came to Penn State from Florida State University in 2014 while fallout from Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal was still a major problem for campus leaders in State College.

“Being president of this institution is a sacred trust, and it’s truly the honor of a lifetime. I am in awe of Penn State’s ‘we are’ spirit and of the transformative power of a Penn State education,” she told the board after the vote at a State College hotel and conference center. “And the Penn State community, which is like no other, anywhere.” 

She won the job over 10 others who had been winnowed down to get formal interviews, officials said. 

“We have found a values-driven leader who will help realize the very best of this institution,” said trustee David M. Kleppinger, who helped lead the search. He called her dynamic, accessible and a savvy business and financial manager. 

Bendapudi said her goal “is for every single Penn Stater to feel invested, invested in our mission of teaching, research and service.” She said she hoped to stay involved with teaching by guest lecturing at Penn State classes.

Bendapudi was hired as University of Louisville’s president in 2018 to lead the school beyond a series of scandals and has received positive reviews for her job performance there. A predecessor at Louisville had been criticized for lucrative compensation and there had been problems with mismanagement as well as excessive spending and flawed investments by the school’s investment arm.

“I loved, loved my time at the University of Louisville. It’s a phenomenal university,” Bendapudi said at a news conference after the vote. 

Before leading Louisville, she had been provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas and dean of the Kansas business school. Bendapudi has a bachelor’s degree and MBA from Andhra University in India and a doctorate from the University of Kansas. She has also taught at Ohio State University and Texas A&M University. She has also worked as a banker and business consultant. 

Bendapudi was born in Visakhapatnam, India, and came to the United States in 1986 for graduate school. Her spouse, Venkat Bendapudi, is a retired faculty member who taught at Ohio State, Kansas and Louisville.

She will take office by July with a five-year contract that calls for an initial annual base salary of $950,000. The school will pay her $350,000 in annual deferred compensation, and if she’s still in the job in five years, she will collect a $1.25 million payment. She also will get $200,000 in “transition payments,” be eligible for business school tenure, and have limited hours of access to a university plane for personal use.

Her biography on the University of Louisville’s website says her academic research “deals with customers’ willingness and ability to maintain long-term relationships with firms and with the brands and employees that represent them.”

Barron had been a former professor and dean at Penn State when he returned to lead the university seven years ago.


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