The University of South Florida can venerate diversity with the best. Not the ideological kind, mind you, but that which can be most easily quantified by favored color-and-hue groups — as well as gender, sexual orientation and international cachet. The usual short list.
It is what it is. They are what they are — American university campuses.
But USF should be commended for its most visible foray into diversity with the selection of Renu Khator as provost and vice president for academic affairs. The native of India is the first female provost in USF history. It’s a very important position for a formidable university facing some critical issues — such as increasing faculty salaries and expanding graduate programs — in times of enrollment growth and increasing financial uncertainty.
It’s also the right move for all the right reasons.
Khator, who had been interim provost since July, should be seen as a symbol of diversity and inclusiveness gone right — not righteous. There was good cause to choose her from an outstanding group of finalists.
Khator, who has a doctorate in political science/public administration from Purdue University, has the requisite academic background, including the authorship of four books on environmental policy. But by all accounts, she brings an objective temperament, organizational prowess, solid people skills and scholastic enthusiasm to the provost’s office. She understands the value of — and complement between — research and instruction. She’s a good listener, prioritizes well, solicits input and favors an open-door policy.
Moreover, the 48-year-old Khator can make the tough decisions, including personnel. She will not be mistaken for a rubber stamp.
Khator’s appointment further validates a program under former President Betty Castor that enabled notably bright, ambitious faculty members, especially minorities, to gain administrative experience. Khator, who had been director of graduate programs for the department of governmental and international affairs, was faculty assistant to the president in 1995-97. From there she became chairwoman for the environmental science and policy department, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and then interim provost.
Khator, after nearly two decades at USF, has significant history with the university. She obviously saw something 19 years ago other than “just a commuter school.” USF is now recognized as a player among national urban-based, research-oriented institutions that are key, synergistic partners with their surrounding metropolitan communities.
She has played an influential part — actually a number of parts — in USF’s metamorphosis. Now she plays an even more important role.
Her ascendance to provost can be called a win for diversity, and she can — and will be –labeled a role model for all who aren’t white males. But that diminishes her accomplishment. Her selection as provost is a fitting testimonial to ability and hard work — not identity politics.
Yes, we live in politically correct times. But call Provost Khator’s achievement an old-fashioned success story with an interesting subcontinent subplot.