New UofL president riffs on academics, one-and-done and rebuilding a brand

Updated: May. 29, 2018 at 11:37 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Just two weeks into her job as UofL President, Dr. Neeli Bendapudi spoke candidly Tuesday about turning around the damaged UofL brand.

When it came to whether she would want to take charge of a university dealing with such serious problems, she answered the question by calling on her background as a banker.

"When you talk about looking at the markets, you buy low," Bendapudi said. "I really felt this is an organization that has so much promise, this university."

In a series of one-on-one interviews arranged for local media outlets, Bendapudi spoke to WAVE 3 News and described her investment in UofL as one with "good bones." She described a turnaround strategy that relies heavily on building a culture of inclusion, trust and integrity.

Bendapudi said her standard for doing the right thing is pretty simple.

"How about I put it this way: Doing the right thing is whatever action we've taken, I would not be embarrassed to have it discussed in the media," she said. "I would not be embarrassed if my mother knew about it, I would not be embarrassed if my child knew about it."

+ Dr. Neeli Bendapudi named UofL's first female president

Bendapudi discussed conversations she has had trying to build new bridges with donors, her strong first impressions of the people of Louisville and her plan to give her cell phone number to every member of the freshman class.

The question she found most difficult to answer was, would she rather see a basketball player go on to the NBA or get a degree?

"You're asking me a really tough question because as an academic, I would want them to get that degree," Bendapudi said. "But at the same time, if that's not the path for them ... I don't know. I'm going to be honest around this, in my mind academics is why they're here. That's what's going to be important."

When asked for her opinion on the one-and-done approach to college basketball, where a player comes in for one season and tries to make the jump to the NBA, Bendapudi said, "I would rather have them waive the requirement to come to college. But you're asking me, rather than the one and done, I think it creates some bad incentives."

Bendapudi said she has not yet met with new men's basketball coach Chris Mack, but had praise for athletic director Vince Tyra. For legal reasons, the one thing Dr. Bendapudi could not discuss was the recent settlement with Tyra's predecessor, Tom Jurich, who was ousted following last fall's FBI investigation into recruiting improprieties at several high-profile college basketball programs.

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