UT Arlington poised to achieve greatness, finalist for president says

Posted Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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ARLINGTON -- Steering the University of Texas at Arlington toward top-tier research status, building a stronger campus community and being accessible to students are crucial to helping the institution grow, Vistasp Karbhari, the lone finalist to be the school's next president, said Wednesday.

"I have to be very accessible," Karbhari told about 200 students, faculty members, alumni and residents at a town hall meeting. "If I'm not accessible, I'm not able to listen."

Standing on the Texas Hall stage, Karbhari talked about developing a shared vision for UT Arlington and making sure that the residents of Dallas-Fort Worth know that it is "their university."

He also took questions from the audience on issues ranging from diversity to research. One person asked whether football is in the university's future; Karbhari said the topic needs further study.

His answers were peppered with humor.

When asked whether he supports student media, he responded, "As long as you write good stores about me, I will support you."

And he told students that they are going to have to study. "And sometimes, you are going to have to study hard," he said.

Karbhari also detailed his leadership style, which has three major components: Don't make assumptions. Make the tough decisions when the time calls for them. And be loyal to the staff.

"If I'm not loyal to them, then they are not going to be loyal to me," he said.

Kadedra Green, a senior and president of the student veterans association, said Karbhari "seemed very down to earth."

Green likes his open-door policy, she said, but it's too soon to know how it will work.

"Once the time comes, we'll see if he can handle the challenge," Green said.

'It's a journey'

Earlier, during a conversation-style interview with reporters, Karbhari praised the university.

"UT Arlington seems poised to be among the best in the nation in what it does," Karbhari said. "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 President James Spaniolo and several UT System officials, Karbhari said the school has emerged as a model in balancing teaching and research while keeping students first.

He said one of his biggest challenges as president will be "filling Dr. Spaniolo's shoes."

Spaniolo is credited with building a stronger campus and increasing enrollment during his tenure.

Officials recently announced that the spring semester enrollment hit an all-time high, with more than 33,800 students.

Karbhari said he wants to assess what steps are needed to guide UTA toward Tier One status, a distinction reserved for high-performing nationally competitive research institutions.

Texas has three such institutions -- the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Rice University.

The state has set aside funding to encourage schools to strive for this status and has designated certain campuses "emerging research universities." UT Arlington, the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Dallas are among campuses seeking that distinction.

Karbhari said becoming a Tier One school is not a two-year or 20-year process but an effort that involves cooperating with other universities and having a clear understanding of how to meet the criteria without merely going down a list.

One of the primary criteria for a national research university is to have more than $100 million in annual federal research expenditures.

"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 provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, the only Tier One school in that state.

'It was a true tragedy'

Karbhari also touched on campus security -- of particular concern to him because in 2010 a faculty member at Alabama-Huntsville killed three colleagues in a campus shooting.

Karbhari is named as a defendant in a lawsuit pending in Alabama courts.

"It was a true tragedy," Karbhari said. "It's a loss that I share with the families every day."

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

Karbhari said keeping UT Arlington safe is a top concern. Asked whether he will weigh in on matters such as proposed campus concealed-carry laws, Karbhari said he has to study the issue further.

This month, a dozen state senators filled Senate Bill 182, known as the "Campus Personal Protection Act." It would allow students with concealed-handgun licenses to carry guns on college campuses.

Regents chose Karbhari, 51, as the lone finalist 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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