Satish Udpa: New MSU leader brings broad academic, administrative experience

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Satish Udpa, MSU's new interim president.

East Lansing — A researcher who has held numerous administrative positions at Michigan State University, Satish Udpa will bring stability and calm to a turbulent campus as the school's new interim president, trustees said Thursday.

 Udpa, named unanimously by the Board of Trustees to replace embattled leader John Engler, will provide "the tone the university needs" as it seeks a permanent leader, said Trustee Brian Mosallam. The school has been without a permanent leader since former President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned a year ago in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal. 

"Satish is a person of integrity, compassion and empathy," Mosallam said. "He has broad-based support throughout the university, and I am extremely confident he will help us heal.”

The trustees appointed Udpa, the executive vice president for administrative services, based in part on faculty input. He reportedly was considered for the position last January prior to Engler's selection. 

Engler resigned Wednesday under pressure amid controversy over his actions and comments toward victims of serial sex abuser Larry Nassar.

Udpa. 68, said he hopes to foster a campus culture that makes survivors feel whole and to ensure that students, faculty and staff are treated fairly. 

"I recognize it’s a challenge, but at the end of the day this is a job that needs to get done," Udpa said. "We can’t continue to operate the way we’ve been for the past two years.”

Udpa, who has worked at MSU since 2001, was appointed to his role in administration in 2013 after serving seven years as dean of MSU’s College of Engineering. He also is a university distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering. His wife, Lalita Udpa, is a professor in the same subject matter at MSU. 

In his role for administrative services, Udpa worked in human resources, IT operations, and planning and budgets, according to a university statement. 

Udpa's words regarding survivors during the tumult of Simon's resignation nearly a year ago demonstrate his leadership, said Mosallam, who read from a letter Udpa sent to faculty and staff regarding the victims of Nassar's sexual abuse.

"We share their anguish and our first obligation is to help them recover and become whole," Mosallam read from Udpa's letter. "Our collective will to be a force of good has to prevail.”

Newly appointed Trustee Nancy Schlichting said Udpa is a calm and thoughtful leader with both academic and administrative experience.

"The partnership of selecting him was really another important step, because apparently that didn’t happen before when John (Engler) was chosen," Schlichting said. 

MSU faculty member Andaluna Borcila said she hopes Udpa's appointment will help to bridge the disconnect between upper leadership and the larger MSU community. 

"I think what our new interim president needs to do is try and re-establish that trust and to draw back into the fold people who have been critical of how things have been going," she said. 

The board's action to force Engler to resign and the prompt appointment of a more appropriate replacement should send a message of change and stability to people interested in the permanent presidential position at MSU, Schlichting added. 

"When you’re looking at a role and you look at a board, you want to know if they’re functioning well," she said. "I think the decision today suggests the board is functioning a lot better.”

When Udpa was appointed to his role in administration in 2013, former President Simon called him an “enormously respected leader and a terrific collaborator.”

“His ability to lead and emulate a high-performance culture within the college that yielded concrete results has made him the best candidate for this position, and we now look at how best to infuse a culture of even higher expectations — of ourselves and of each other — throughout our entire enterprise,” Simon said in a 2013 statement.

According to the statement, Udpa’s research included studies into clinical noninvasive detection techniques, including “electromagnetic-acoustic methods for detecting failures in artificial heart valves and microwave imaging and ablation therapy systems.”

Udpa obtained his bachelor's degree at J.N.T. University in India and his master's and doctorate from Colorado State University. Prior to MSU, Udpa worked at Iowa State University.

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