A student recently told me that she has never been prouder to attend the University of Louisville than in the past few months. After a tumultuous few years, she said it felt like the University of Louisville was turning a corner. The energy and publicity surrounding the recent hires of Vince Tyra, Chris Mack and Dr. Neeli Bendapudi has rallied the university community.
This newfound pride and excitement is understandable since the past few years have been challenging for reasons outside of any student’s control. I don’t want to dwell on the past but here’s the fly-by: financial mismanagement, insensitive depictions of cultures, secretive leadership, athletics scandals and accreditation issues. Students were rightfully disappointed at university leadership.
It is now clear that previous administrators were ignoring or sidestepping student voices. In an email between two former University administrators, one referred to student leaders as a “cast of characters” to be “maneuvered” around (p. 259, A&M Report). It hurt me to see a former leader refer to students – the population that a university serves – in such a dismissive tone.
I believe that period at the University of Louisville is now behind us. University leadership has been working diligently to rectify the ills of some of their predecessors. They have worked with student government to implement changes that we thought might never occur. We’ve installed free menstrual product dispensers across our campuses. We’ve worked with Business Services and the U of L Police Department to improve campus safety by investing in new lighting and launching a new Uber-style campus shuttle system.
Athletic director Tyra was critical in helping lower the athletics fee and is working with us to increase student engagement. Acting Provost Dr. Dale Billingsley has worked with us to advance academic and financial transparency for students. Interim President Dr. Greg Postel was instrumental in all of these efforts whether it was by delegating authority, authorizing expenditures or facilitating dialogue.
Furthermore, a few weeks ago, the University of Louisville Foundation announced that they would add ex officio seats for the faculty, staff and student members of the Board of Trustees. These are all positive steps that indicate stability and a gradual shift towards transparency.
U of L isn’t perfect but these changes at our university would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. I have had disagreements with the administration but their candor and willingness to address issues has been encouraging and refreshing. To provide some context, a former student body president once griped to me about how he had spent most of his term, over a decade ago, challenging the athletic fee only to be repeatedly ignored by administrators. Another former student government leader once fumed about the opaque decision-making process at the foundation; imagine her surprise when she learned that a student seat had been added to the ULF Board of Directors. These kinds of institutional changes reflect a newfound appreciation for student voices.
Despite the challenges of the past few years, I am proud to note that U of L students are still winning national accolades, raising families, conducting groundbreaking research, serving in the Armed Forces, working their way through college and investing thousands of hours of direct community service here in Kentucky. These efforts would not be possible without guidance from our dedicated faculty and staff. Whether they challenged our thinking in the classroom, oversaw our research, kept our campus safe, cooked our meals, or provided emotional support – they are instrumental to student success. Students, faculty and staff are all deeply invested stakeholders in the university.
Dr. Bendapudi has indicated that all of our voices will be valued and that student success is a cornerstone of her vision for the university. We know that she is energetic and passionate about U of L: on her first day on campus she briefly crashed a campus tour to make the case directly to incoming freshman as to why they should come here. Students loved it. She also intuitively understands the transformative power of higher education.
Higher education is the key to a developed workforce, a robust economy, personal financial security and fostering active citizens. It helps us think critically and trains us to work in different fields. In my view it is a part of the American dream and in a rapidly changing economy, it is increasingly essential. As they face reduced financial support from the state, public institutions now need the support of their local community more than ever.
With the dust settling, the University of Louisville can now focus on strategic long-term planning in pursuit of our mission to be an outstanding metropolitan research university. Dr. Bendapudi and the leadership team have their work cut out for them. As they confront new challenges, I hope that our alumni, the greater Louisville community, Kentuckians and political leaders stand ready to help for what will be an exciting new era at the University of Louisville.
Vishnu Tirumala is the outgoing student body president at the University of Louisville. He has been a member of the governing board of trustees since last July.
Read or Share this story: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/contributors/2018/05/16/university-louisville-students-leaders-new-era-vishnu-tirumala/616743002/