Indian-American university president in Texas appointed to collegiate athletics board

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University of Houston President Renu Khator, who is possibly the first Indian-American woman to lead a university system, will soon take on an additional leadership role, one that deals with challenges faced where university academics and collegiate athletics intersect: the NCAA.

Renu Khator, president and chancellor of the University of Houston System since 2008, was just inducted as a member of the Board of Directors of NCAA Division 1. (Photo: courtesy University of Houston)

The NCAA, (National Collegiate Athletic Association). a non-profit organization comprised of 1,117 schools, has appointed Khator, to serve on its Division I Board of Directors through August 2023. The appointment begins May 1, according to a press release from the university.

Khator’s allegiance to growing athletics programs at her school is well known. In December 2018, she was inducted into the UH Athletics Hall of Honor.

Khator’s rise from being an immigrant who did not know English well, to becoming one of the most recognized faces in Texas, and especially also in the field of sports where few Indian-Americans have made their mark so far, is phenomenal and almost idyllic success story of the “American Dream”.

The institution that she has led since 2008, sees Khator as “a woman who has led more than a decade of transformation” at the university, gathering laurels along the way including, designation as a Tier One public research university; earning a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, an indicator of excellence in undergraduate education; increasing the number of degrees awarded by 43% (2006-2016); raising more than $1 billion in the “Here, We Go” capital campaign; and establishing new colleges for nursing, medicine and the arts.

The appointment to the NCAA Division I Board of Directors which is comprised of 20 presidents, a student-athlete, faculty representative, athletics director and female administrator, comes at a crucial time for the organization that represents nearly half a million college athletes, according to UH.

“The NCAA is facing imperative issues, such as the economic sustainability of big-time college sports, the rights and welfare of student-athletes and their preparedness for the workforce after college,” the March 21, UH press release said. The Division I Board of Directors is the body expected to provide strategic direction and oversight of committees responsible for academic policies and standards, infractions and appeals, and day-to-day decision-making while also engaging presidential leadership from member institutions.

“Upholding the highest level of integrity and sportsmanship in intercollegiate athletics is more important now than perhaps ever before,” Khator is quoted saying in the press release. “I embrace this new opportunity to work alongside the dedicated leaders on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. The values of institutions, athletics programs and student-athletes must be aligned to achieve athletic and academic success. I will work hard to make sure they are,” Khator added.

The University of Houston credits Khator for making the institution a “powerhouse,” strengthening its national competitiveness both in academics and its 17 Division 1 athletic programs. Long a proponent of collegiate athletics, Khator has advocated for the idea that a nationally competitive athletics program “is one way to build a strong academic institution.”

“I look forward to working with President Khator on the Division I Board of Directors. Her broad and diverse engagement in American higher education, global public service and college sports will bring valuable perspective to the division,” said Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, adding,  “The Association will address a number of significant issues over the next few years, and President Khator’s strong leadership will play a vital role in supporting student-athlete success in and out of the classroom.”

In the past, Khator has served on an NCAA committee, the American Athletic Conference (The American), and been a representative on the NCAA Division I Presidential Forum since Sept. 2016. As the primary presidential advisory body for the NCAA Division I Board, she has provided counsel on many of the most pivotal issues facing collegiate athletics, UH said in the press release.

“The experience of serving on the NCAA Presidential Forum for the last several years has only strengthened my awareness of the challenges and matters facing the NCAA, including the financial sustainability of athletics programs, health and safety. I look forward to expanding my responsibilities within the NCAA,” Khator said.

Khator also currently serves as the chair of the Board of Directors of the American Athletic Conference (AAC). She is on several Houston-area boards, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a prestigious think-tank.

The University of Houston has an enrollment of more than 46,000 students today, awards nearly 10,000 degrees annually, and has a $6-billion economic impact on the Greater Houston area each year, according to the website.

Khator took over the helm as president and chancellor of the UH System in 2008, and on her university profile, says the following about her philosophy of higher education: “I look at it as a pyramid. You need to have a strong base, with enough affordable, accessible college education for your population to fuel your economy. But at the same time, you must also have the pinnacle of the pyramid, which means the very best in innovation, in research, in scholarship, in the world.” According to her UH is committed to these dual goals. “We must always take a long, hard look at what we are doing and evaluate our real-world options. But we must always do so while remaining totally committed to the core mission,” Khator emphasizes.

According to her biography, Khator was born in Uttar Pradesh, and came to the United States without being fluent in English.

She studied at Purdue University, Indiana, where she earned a master’s degree (1975) and a Ph.D. (1985) in political science.

Among the many honors she has received, Khator was bestowed a doctor of social sciences, honoris causa by Purdue; has been inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame; and awarded the Excellence in Leadership Award by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services honored her with its Outstanding American By Choice Award, which recognizes the achievements of naturalized American citizens.

India has recognized her with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award.

Her husband, Dr. Suresh Khator, is the associate dean of the UH Cullen College of Engineering. The couple has two married daughters and two grandchildren.

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