Education

The Penn State University board of trustees unanimously approved Neeli Bendapudi as the school’s 19th president Thursday morning. Bendapudi has been the president at the University of Louisville since 2018.

Bendapudi was the first woman, and the first person of color, to be U of L president. She is also the first woman and first person of color to serve as Penn State’s president. 

“Being president of this institution is a sacred trust, and it’s truly the honor of a lifetime,” Bendapudi said. “I am in awe of Penn State’s ‘we are’ spirit and of the transformative power of a Penn State education.”

Before voting, members of the board of trustees and presidential search committee spoke on why Bendapudi was the right choice.

“In Dr. Bendapudi, we have found a values-driven leader, who will help realize the very best of this institution and will successfully lead Penn State into the future,” board of trustees vice chair David Kleppinger said.

“We found Neeli Bendapudi to be an incredibly thoughtful, strategic leader with an inspiring breadth and depth of experiences in academia and research,” Evan Pugh University professor and member of the presidential recruitment and selection committee Nina Jablonski said in a press release. “The qualities of a 21st-century academic leader — commitments to excellence, equity and opportunity — are second nature to Dr. Bendapudi.”

Aaron Thompson, the president of Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education, released a statement moments after Bendapudi accepted the position at Penn State. 

“While I will miss having my close friend Neeli Bendapudi at the University of Louisville, I am so grateful for her leadership and lasting impact on Kentucky higher education,” Thompson wrote. “She brought to us keen insights and knowledge and an unwavering commitment to high-quality learning and true equity.” 

Leaders in the Kentucky legislature and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell expressed sadness over her departure and appreciation for her work.  

“I was greatly impressed by the energy, enthusiasm, and strong vision she had for UofL and enjoyed watching her become an expert in raising the ‘L,’” McConnell wrote in a release. “Dr. Bendapudi deserves much credit for her many accomplishments during her tenure at U of L, and I want to thank her for her impressive leadership and work on behalf of the university and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

In a message posted to a university website, Bendapudi said that the decision to leave U of L was a difficult one because of the work she leaves behind. 

“I have complete confidence this important work will continue and that the University of Louisville will rise to greater heights,” she wrote in the message. 

At a Penn State press conference following her approval, Bendapudi said the U of L board of trustees is “all over it,” referring to the search for her replacement, and that she will do everything to make sure the transition is smooth.

John Karman, U of L’s executive director of communications, said in an email that she would remain in her official capacity through December. 

“The [board of trustees] is expected to name an interim president and begin laying the groundwork for the search for a permanent president next week.”

Rebecca Feldhaus Adams contributed to this report.

Breya Jones is the Breaking News Reporter for WFPL.