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Five things to know about Penn State’s new president Neeli Bendapudi

Neeli Bendapudi, who served as president in Louisville from 2018 to 2021, was elected the president at Thursday’s board of trustees meeting in State College.

Penn State's new president Neeli Bendapudi addresses the board meeting in State College on Thursday.
Penn State's new president Neeli Bendapudi addresses the board meeting in State College on Thursday.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Penn State University on Thursday appointed Neeli Bendapudi, the former president of the University of Louisville, as its 19th president and its first woman president in its 166-year-history.

Bendapudi, who served as president in Louisville from 2018 to 2021, was elected at Thursday’s board of trustees meeting in State College. She replaces outgoing Penn State president Eric J. Barron.

» READ MORE: Penn State names Louisville president Neeli Bendapudi as its next leader

She is the first president of color for Penn State after a history of white men leading the university.

Here’s a few things to know about Bendapudi, who’s been in higher education for years.

A career in higher education

Bendapudi, 58, has been an administrator in higher education since at least 2011, according to her University of Louisville biography. In 2011, after earning her Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Kansas and teaching at Texas A&M University and Ohio State University, she returned to the University of Kansas to become its school of business dean. She was also the H.D. Price professor of business at the university.

Eventually, Bendapudi would serve as the provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas before being selected by the University of Louisville’s board of trustees to serve as president in April 2018.

Professional experience

Bendapudi has long studied and specialized in consumer behavior and how customers interact with firms and with brands, according to her biography. She’s had her research published in many of the most prestigious academic publications and has been a keynote speaker at national and international conferences.

She has previously served as the chief customer officer of the Huntington National Bank.

‘A ++’ first year

Bendapudi’s first year at the helm of the University of Louisville was so successful in the eyes of the board of trustees that they granted her a pay raise, the Courier Journal reported. At least one board trustee rated her first-year performance “A ++.”

In spring 2019, the board of trustees voted to give Bendapudi a $75,000 raise, along with a boost in her guaranteed bonus. Her initial salary was $650,000, with an additional annual bonus of $130,000 that was guaranteed for the first two years in the post.

Her annual pay was increased to $725,000 and her annual bonus was bumped to $150,000.

Navigating a university through trouble

Much like Barron had to steer Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Bendapudi has had experience moving a university forward through troubled waters.

When Bendapudi was hired at Lousivile in April 2018, the university was just a few years removed from a scandal that broke in 2016: a former employee of the Louisville basketball team had allegedly paid for strippers and sex workers for some of the team’s recruits, along with their fathers, from 2010 to 2014, the New York Times reported.

The university voluntarily held its men’s basketball team from the 2016 Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments as the NCAA investigated.

Bendapudi replaced the embattled James Ramsey, who resigned in 2016 after pressure from the university, the Courier Journal reported. The month Bendapudi was hired, the university and its foundation sued Ramsey and members of his administration to try to recover millions that Ramsey allegedly took from the foundation’s endowment.

Bendapudi herself leaves the University of Louisville with a bit of controversy trailing her.

Recent reports asserted that Bendapudi’s office was heavily involved in a controversial decision to suspend men’s basketball coach Chris Mack. Mack had secretly taped an assistant who’d targeted him for an extortion scheme.

Along with other issues, this fomented reports that Bendapudi had a contentious relationship with athletic director Vince Tyra. The board of trustees on Wednesday waived Tyra’s non-compete clause in his contract, freeing him up to take the athletic director position at Florida State, where reports have said he will move, the Courier Journal reported.

None of the trustees commented and The Courier Journal criticized Bendapudi for declining to comment on the change to Tyra’s contract and why he would be allowed to go work for a competitor in the same conference.

Family life

Bendapudi was raised in Andhra Pradesh, India and is married to Venkat Bendapudi, an associate professor at the University of Louisville. They have a daughter, Sirisha.