Finalist for UTA president calls tier one status a journey

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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ARLINGTON -- Steering the University of Texas at Arlington toward top tier research status and helping build a stronger campus community are keys to helping the institution grow, Vistasp Karbhari, the lone finalist to be the school's next president, said Wednesday.

"UT Arlington seems poised to be among the best in the nation in what it does," Karbhari told a handful of reporters during a conversation-style interview Wednesday morning. "It's a very innovative university and it has done a fabulous job in striking new ground in a variety of different areas."

Flanked by outgoing UTA President James Spaniolo and several UT System officials, Karbhari said UTA has emerged as a model in balancing teaching and research while keeping students first. He added that one of his biggest challenges as new president will be "filling Dr. Spaniolo's shoes."

Spaniolo is credited with building a stronger campus and increasing enrollment during his tenure. Wednesday, officials announced that the spring semester enrollment hit a new all-time high with more than 33,800 students.

Karbhari said he wants to assess what steps will be needed to guide UTA to becoming a "tier one" research campus, a term that refers to high-performing, nationally competitive research institutions.

In Texas, there are three such institutions -- the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Rice University. Texas hopes to gain more such facilities and has set aside funding to encourage universities to strive for this status and designated certain campuses as "emerging research universities." The University of Texas at Arlington, University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Dallas are among campuses seeking that distinction.

"If you look at tier one, it's a journey," said Karbhari, a native of Pune, India. "I believe we are on a path to achieve tier one status."

Karbhari is the current provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, which is the only tier one school in that state.

Karbhari said becoming a tier one school it is not a two-year or 20-year process, but it is an effort that involves cooperation with other universities and a clear understanding of how to reach metrics that are involved without merely going down a list. For example, one of the primary criteria for a national research university is to have more than $100 million in annual federal research expenditures.

Karbhari also touched on campus security -- a top concern of particular note for him because in 2010 a faculty member at Alabama-Hunstville killed three colleagues during a campus shooting. Karbhari is named as a defendant in a lawsuit pending in Alabama courts.

"It was a true tragedy," Karbhari said of the shootings. "It's a loss that I share with the families everyday."

The UT System board of regents has commended Karbhari for his "compassionate" leadership after the shooting.

Karbhari said that maintaining a safe campus is a top concern for him. Asked whether he would weigh in on Texas issues such as proposed campus conceal and carry laws, Karbhari said he would have to study the issue further.

Earlier this month, a dozen state senators filed Senate Bill 182, which is referred to as the "Campus Personal Protection Act." This would allow students with concealed handgun licenses to carry guns on Texas college campuses, according to recent news reports.

Karbhari said he wants to have an open door policy with students and help build campus community spirit -- an issue for students who aren't pleased with the number of fans at athletic events.

Later Wednesday, Karbhari is scheduled to take part in a town hall meeting at Texas Hall. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and community leaders are expected to be in attendance.

The town hall meeting will allow people to learn more about Karbhari and why he was selected the top candidate for the post, said Randa Safady, vice chancellor for external relations for the UT System.

UT System regents chose the 51-year-old Karbhari as the lone finalist for the president's position on Feb. 14. A week later regents stood behind him after they met to discuss his selection further in a closed meeting.

He was chosen after an eight-month search to find a successor to Spaniolo. The appointment is scheduled to take effect at the end of a 21-day waiting period, which is March 7.

Diane Smith, (817) 390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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