UofL’s board of trustees voted to raise President Neeli Bendapudi’s salary. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Neeli Bendapudi did an “A++” job in her first year running the University of Louisville, trustees said, and she’s getting a raise in return.

Beginning in July, Bendapudi will make a combined $875,000 between base salary and a guaranteed bonus. That’s up 12% from her current compensation, which ranks fifth from last in a list of peer schools, board chair David Grissom said on Thursday.

The increase lands her in the middle of peer institutions, less than $2,000 short of the University of Kentucky president Eli Capilouto. Bendapudi is “entitled” to the raise, which sends a signal from the “optics standpoint,” Grissom said.

Bendapudi’s raise comes as UofL eyes a 2.5% tuition hike for the coming school year. Instead of covering for slashed state funding, the increase is expected to go to faculty and staff raises of around 2%.

Bendapudi’s raise juxtaposed against those for employees yielded mixed reactions from staff, alumni and students on social media. Most agreed Bendapudi and UofL staff deserve raises, but that it shouldn’t be on the backs of students.

While approving Bendapudi’s raise, student trustee Jonathan Fuller asked for faculty and staff raises to be increased in coming budget talks.

Grissom told reporters he didn’t consider the difference between Bendapudi’s 12% and employees’ 2% raises to be inequitable.

The unanimous Thursday morning vote came shortly after a strong first evaluation for Bendapudi. One by one, trustees spoke glowingly of Bendapudi, often echoing the compliments before them.

Trustee Nitin Sahney said Bendapudi has done an “A++” job in her first year. Staff representative John Smith said the difference between her and past leaders is like “night and day.” Fuller called her a “breath of fresh air.”

Several praised her ability to handle tough situations and avoid the scandals that have plagued UofL under recent leadership.

“Neeli’s not given me anything I’ve had to apologize for,” Vice Chair James Rogers said.

Bendapudi asked for time to process the kind words — she stepped out of the room for the evaluation and hadn’t heard what was said.

“It’s recognition for good work done by a lot of different people,” Bendapudi said.

Bendapudi makes $650,000 a year with a guaranteed $130,000 bonus. Next year, that will bump to $725,000 and a $150,000 guaranteed one-year bonus.

Unlike her predecessors, her clear-cut contract does not include deferred compensation or other frills. UofL is suing former president James Ramsey, in part, for allegedly colluding “to pay excessive compensation to themselves and others.” Ramsey has denied the allegation.

Ramsey pulled in nearly $4.3 million in his final fiscal year as president, despite only working 27 days before resigning. A $3.55 million deferred compensation package vested in that timeframe, earning him the spot as the highest-paid public university president for fiscal year 2017.

UofL hired Bendapudi last spring, making her the first woman and person of color to permanently hold the position.

This post has been updated. 

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Olivia Krauth
Krauth reports on education in Louisville, including JCPS, the University of Louisville and state policy. Before joining Insider Louisville, she covered technology and business as a reporter at TechRepublic. She also spent time on the data team at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas as a Dow Jones intern. Krauth graduated from UofL, where she was an award-winning editor of The Louisville Cardinal and obtained a degree in investigative journalism with a minor in Russian studies. Email Olivia at [email protected]