Outgoing UTA president throws support behind Karbhari

Posted Friday, Feb. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Outgoing UT Arlington President James Spaniolo and former President Robert Witt issued statements Thursday backing Alabama's Vistasp Karbhari as the new leader of the 33,000-student school.

"I've had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Vistasp Karbhari and spending time with him," wrote Spaniolo, who announced his retirement in June. "We look forward to welcoming him to Arlington for his campus visits very soon and to introducing him to our students, faculty, staff and other members of our University community."

At the same time, a spokeswoman for the University of Texas System said Karbhari, who is the subject of a wrongful-death lawsuit at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, will not answer questions from the media during the 21 days before he officially becomes Spaniolo's successor.

"As is our regular practice, finalists are not made available for one-on-one media interviews," system spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said in an email to the Star-Telegram.

But LaCoste-Caputo acknowledged that the selection of Karbhari as the lone finalist "has extenuating circumstances" and that she would find out whether there is an "opportunity for some dialogue."

The 21 days end March 7 but is not the deadline for the board of regents to formally name Karbhari to the post.

Karbhari is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting in Arlington and will meet privately with students and faculty members, LaCoste-Caputo said. He will speak at the town hall, but further details, including whether he will answer questions, were not immediately available.

On Wednesday, UT System regents stood behind their choice of Karbhari as the lone finalist, saying he is "extremely well-suited" to lead the university.

The board also commended Karbhari, a top administrator at UA-Huntsville, for his "compassionate" leadership after a campus shooting killed three faculty members nearly three years ago.

Former biology professor Amy Bishop pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence. Three people were also wounded.

Karbhari, the university's provost and vice president for academic affairs, was named in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by families of two slain faculty members, which accused him of not following protocol when Bishop began behaving bizarrely on campus.

After meeting for more than an hour by phone Wednesday, UT System regents issued a statement defending his handling of the crisis.

Witt, who is now chancellor of the University of Alabama System, said in his statement Thursday: "Dr. Vistasp Karbhari is a very skilled and experienced administrator. During his time at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, he has exhibited outstanding judgment and he has my complete confidence."

Jennifer Fox, president of the UTA Student Congress and a member of the search committee, said Karbhari appeared in candidate interviews to be passionate about higher education and well-versed about UTA. She said she also understands the concerns about the lawsuit.

"I think that the board of regents would have been remiss if they had not had another meeting to address this, because it is obviously an issue for the community," Fox said. "I think the regents made a good decision in backing Dr. Karbhari as the lone finalist."

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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