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Tripathi will go from provost to president of UB; SUNY board expected to affirm chancellor's recommendation

Satish K. Tripathi has been the No. 2 official at the University at Buffalo for six years, but for much of that time he remained out of the spotlight.

While President John B. Simpson was the public face who pushed for funding and reforms in Albany, Tripathi was in charge of academics and all that goes with it -- hiring, firing and wielding the budget ax.

That may not make Tripathi the most popular guy on campus. But Thursday, he was the talk of the town.

Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher of the State University of New York named Tripathi the finalist for the job as UB president.

The chancellor's recommendation is all but certain to be backed by the SUNY board of trustees in a special meeting next month in Buffalo.

It would make Tripathi UB's 15th president -- the first born outside the United States -- and leader of the largest public university in the state during what's considered a critical time in its history.

"It would be my distinct privilege to lead our remarkable university, which is recognized for its tradition of excellence and has an extraordinary future ahead," Tripathi said in a prepared statement.

The provost declined interviews until his appointment is made official by the SUNY board.

But the campus is eager to hear more from the man who has been largely behind the scenes at UB.

"I think everybody is waiting to see what he's going to do," said Michael Behun, president of the United University Professions, the union representing faculty and professional staff on the North Campus in Amherst. "Is the university going to take a major change in direction or continue the path we're on or somewhere in between?"

Under Simpson, UB charted an ambitious plan to grow into a top public research institution and has been embroiled in state budget talks in the State Capitol.

The university seeks a number of financial changes -- including the ability to raise tuition on some students and expanded rights for deals with private companies -- that would raise money to bring thousands of jobs to downtown Buffalo with its development plan.

As the chief academic officer in charge of instruction and research, Tripathi played a key role, but will he continue to push that agenda?

"In the interview process, the UB Council had the opportunity to sit down and have that conversation," said Robert T. Brady, chairman and chief executive officer of Moog Inc. and a member of the UB Council. "I think he's very supportive of the goals that were established by UB 2020.

"But he's the administrator that's had to work through the budget cuts over the last few years, so he's realistic about what can proactively be done," Brady added. "I think a lot depends on what kind of support he can get from the State Legislature and the Western New York delegation."

A native of India, Tripathi, 60, graduated at the top of his class from Banaras Hindu University.

He holds master's degrees in statistics from Banaras Hindu and the University of Alberta, Canada, and master's and doctoral degrees in computer science from the University of Toronto. Tripathi was a professor of computer science at the University of Maryland for 19 years, before moving to the University of California, Riverside, where he served as dean of the Bourns College of Engineering for seven years.

He came to UB in 2004 to serve as the provost.

"In a way, he is a Horatio Alger story," said Christopher J. O'Brien, an Amherst attorney who serves on the UB Council and was a member of the search committee that selected Tripathi. "He came from a village of 4,000 in India, and to that extent he's kind of a small-town boy made good."

"He's a humble man," O'Brien added, "and you only need to talk to him once or twice to realize ego is not an issue with Satish."

UB observers say they believe he will have a much different style than Simpson and former UB President William Greiner. Tripathi is more private and reserved, and will focus on academics.

The news of Tripathi's nomination came as no surprise on campus, where his name has been rumored for the job for weeks.

He was the unanimous choice of the search committee.

His supporters believe Tripathi has done a good job dealing with state budget cuts while maintaining the core of the university. That, they said, should help him jump right into the job of president.

"Because of his role as provost, he understands the workings of not only UB, but the SUNY system," said Esther S. Takeuchi, a UB professor recruited by Tripathi. "He understands the UB 2020 vision during these difficult budget times and will not have a long learning curve."

"I think that's definitely a factor, but he, more than anyone, understands UB 2020 is a work in progress," said Diane Christian, a UB professor on the search committee. "He understands where education is right now, what kinds of moves we have to make and what the culture is."

But Tripathi has his critics on campus.

He has continued to face claims of gender bias against women in granting tenure.

Critics also point to where UB stands among its peers in the national rankings, as well as controversial decisions during his time, like dissolving the School of Infomatics.

"In some ways, it's hard because you don't know as provost how much of the decisions were his and how many were his based on the parameters that were put on him by the president," said Raymond P. Dannenhoffer, UUP president on the South Campus.

The presidential search process also was kept confidential, leaving many on campus to wonder what the other candidates -- a national and international pool of more than 60 -- had to offer.

"To be fair, you have to give him a chance now to be president," Dannenhoffer said. "The buck now stops with him."

Tripathi certainly faces hurdles.

"Clearly, part of his challenge is going to deal with the realities of the state budget situation without making changes to the university and not damaging things long term because of short-term problems," Dannenhoffer said.

Another challenge will be switching from provost to the face of the university.

"It will be a change of focus for him, because he's been Mr. Inside and John Simpson has been Mr. Outside," Brady said, "but he'll make that transition."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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Satish K. Tripathi

Becomes the 15th UB president and the first born outside the United States

• AGE: 60 • BORN: Patna, India.

• EDUCATION: Graduated top of his class from Banaras Hindu University in India; holds three
master's degrees; doctorate in computer science from University of Toronto.

• CAREER: 19 years on University of Maryland faculty; dean of the College of Engineering at the
University of California, Riverside; joined UB as provost and chief academic officer in 2004.

• PERSONAL: Lives in Amherst with wife, Kamlesh; has two grown sons, Manish and Aashish.

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