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Philly native of Indian descent becomes Arcadia University president

Ajay Nair will be the first president of color in the Glenside university's 164-year history and is among few American-born college presidents of Indian descent in the nation.

Ajay Nair, new president of Arcadia University
Ajay Nair, new president of Arcadia UniversityRead moreCourtesy of Arcadia University

Arcadia University, roiled by leadership troubles in recent years, has hired a new president — a senior vice president and dean of campus life at Emory University in Georgia.

Ajay Nair will be the first president of color in the Glenside university's 164-year history and is among few American-born college presidents of Indian descent in the nation.

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in Broomall, he also worked for the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University. He received bachelor's and doctorate degrees from Penn State.

"It's a blessing to return home to the Philadelphia area to lead an institution with the potential to transform delivery of a liberal arts education to produce work-ready and life-ready students," said Nair, 43, a scholar specializing in social justice, race, and ethnicity issues. "I look forward to working with our stakeholders to build a compelling vision for Arcadia that creates best practices in higher education."

Alison Aaron Madsen, chair of the university's board of trustees and an Arcadia alumna, said trustees were pleased with Nair's credentials.

"As an international scholar, social justice practitioner, and first-generation college student, [Nair] demonstrates a distinct understanding of the complex issues currently facing universities and their students," said Madsen, an attorney. "We have complete confidence that Dr. Nair will move Arcadia forward as a leading liberal arts institution."

Nair will take the helm at Arcadia, a 76-acre campus with about 3,800 undergraduate and graduate students, in April.

He's had a career of more two decades in higher education, including posts as a faculty member, student affairs administrator, and academic administrator. At Emory, he leads a staff of nearly 1,300 employees and oversees departments including athletics, student health, international student programs, racial and cultural engagement, residence life, and a career center.

Before starting at Emory in 2012, Nair served as senior associate vice provost for student affairs at the University of Pennsylvania and previously worked for Columbia University and the University of Virginia.

One of his jobs at Arcadia will be to bring stability to leadership ranks that have experienced upheaval in recent years.

The university's former president, Nicolette Christensen, left last spring after less than four years on the job. She had stepped in to lead the university as chief operating officer in March 2013 after the board fired its previous president, Carl "Tobey" Oxholm III.

The university also had significant turnover in other leadership positions and on its board of trustees. In August 2016, the Inquirer reported that 10 members of the board had resigned in recent months and that five left as their terms expired. That means nearly half the board that oversaw the university a year earlier was no longer there. The departures occurred as the university was trying to close a budget deficit.

And last fall, Chris van de Velde stepped down as chairman.

Since Christensen's departure, the university has been led by interim President Hank Brown, former president of the University of Colorado and a former U.S. senator.

Nair is married to Paayal Nair, a school psychologist. They have a son, 15, and a daughter, 12.