University Business October 2019 - 28

HOUSTON, we are SOLVING PROBLEMS
master's degree a year later. A diverse student body helped her to adjust despite
the cultural differences, she says.
"In India, I grew up in a wealthy family, and here, I was the wife of a poor
graduate student," she says. "In India,
because I was in a small town, I was escorted everywhere; I could never walk on
the street by myself. Here, I was eating ice
cream on the street."
The couple spent a few years back in
India and had two daughters before returning to the U.S., where she finished
a doctorate in political science and public administration at Purdue. Her first
teaching position-as a visiting lecturer
for $18,000 per year at the University
of South Florida in Tampa-wound up
establishing her roots in higher ed. She
spent the next 22 years there, rising to the
position of provost.
Houston's hometown advantage
Though the U.S. offered greater career
opportunities than were available to her
in India, Khator says that moving into
and up through a university administration "was never easy."

"I always believed that I would have to
work harder; I would have to work 10%
harder because I'm a woman and 10%
harder because I'm international," she
says. "But I never thought I would be in
administration. I never thought I wanted
to go to the 'dark side' of the academy."
Khator's journey toward higher ed
leadership started at the University of
South Florida when, in an effort to burnish her bid for full professorship, she
joined the faculty senate and was elected
president two year later. The position
required her to balance the interests of
faculty deeply opposed to the board of regents' appointment of a campus president
from outside academia and that leader's
subsequent decision to start a football
team at the university.
"When you lead faculty, you realize
how many different interests there are; it's
not a monolithic body," she says. "You also
learn how to value shared governance. You
learn how to value the processes-that
it's not only about reaching the goal. It's
about the journey, and the experience and
involvement of people having an equal
impact on the outcome of any initiative."

LEADER AT A GLANCE
Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston since 2008, grew up in India.
Undergraduate study: Kanpur University (India)
Graduate degree: Master of Arts in political science and doctorate in political
science/public administration, Purdue University
On the way up:
* Chancellor, University of Houston
System, 2008-present

* Dean, College of Arts and Sciences,
University of South Florida, 2000-03

* President, University of Houston,
2007-present

* Director/chair, Environmental
Science and Policy Department,
University of South Florida, 1997-2000

* Provost and senior vice president,
University of South Florida, 2003-07

28 | October 2019

* Faculty assistant to the president,
University of South Florida, 1995-97

CULTURE OF GIVING-The university
completed a $1 billion fundraising
campaign in March, more than a year
ahead of schedule. So far, the money
has been used to renovate facilities.

At the same time, the new president,
Betty Castor, became a mentor who
helped Khator develop her style of inclusive leadership. "From her, I learned
administration from the external point of
view," Khator says. "I learned what role
the community can play in building a
university. I learned how to interact with
legislative stakeholders and the important role they have. I also learned the art
of listening and consensus building."
Those skills helped her to reverse low
graduation and retention rates and to
solve some of the other challenges she
found when she became president and
chancellor of the University of Houston
in 2008. She brought with her the vision
of making the namesake institution of
the country's fourth-largest city a nationally competitive research university.
"The university wasn't showing up
on national lists," she says. "There had
been three years of declining enrollment
and the fundraising was very small, but
bottom line, the university had a lot of
potential because of its location."
Major milestones
Within just three years, Khator and
her team had achieved one of her top
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