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Published: Saturday, 1/13/2001

Classes, research occupy Kapoor out of limelight

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In the shadow of his controversial legacy, Vik Kapoor still walks the halls of the University of Toledo.

After 17 months as president and lightning rod for turmoil at the university. Dr. Kapoor resigned in June and has returned to the relatively quiet life of a professor and researcher.

"He's kept a very low profile," said Andrew Jorgensen, chairman of the faculty senate and an outspoken critic of the Kapoor administration. "I literally have heard nothing, and I'm amazed."

Dr. Kapoor's silence has extended to The Blade, to which he has refused to make comment since his resignation. But his peers say he has made the move smoothly.

"I think it's amazing how well he's adapted to the transition," said Ron Fournier, an interim dean of engineering who resigned the post in October and returned to teaching.

"I don't really detect any bitterness," Dr. Fournier said. "I think he realizes that he gave it the best he could, and he's moved on. You really could have a lot of opportunities to fool around and get back into politics, but he's chosen not to do that.

"He seems very positive, very happy," he said. "I think it's a different kind of happiness. He really enjoyed being in a leadership position, whether it was the college or the university."

Dr. Kapoor, 55, the son of a government official in India, joined UT as dean of its engineering college in 1994 and was named president by the board of trustees four years later. Previously, he was chairman of electrical engineering at the University of Cincinnati.

When he was named president, Dr. Kapoor made grand promises about increasing enrollment by 10,000 students and raising UT in 10 years from the fourth tier of nationally ranked universities to the second tier.

Almost from the beginning, however, he was dogged by vocal opposition from some faculty members, who claimed he micro-managed the university and failed to communicate with them.

Dr. Kapoor was forced by the trustees to resign in June and was replaced by an operating team led by William Decatur, interim president and vice president of finance and business services. A search is now under way for a permanent replacement for president. The search committee is scheduled to meet again Thursday.

As part of an agreement with the university's board of trustees that runs until the end of this year, Dr. Kapoor maintained his $206,000 annual presidential salary and returned to the classroom as director of the university's Nanotechnology Research Center.

There, he has focused on teaching, advising, research, and trying to secure grants, said Nagi Naganathan, interim dean of the engineering college.

"He is trying to re-establish his research. He's really focused on his work," Dr. Naganathan said.

Dr. Kapoor taught two classes in the fall: one for graduate students and one for undergraduates. He will add a graduate course when classes resume Tuesday.

His twin sons, Michael and John, are sophomores at UT. John is a prepharmacy major, while Michael is majoring in bioengineering.

Chris Melkonian, a graduate student whom Dr. Kapoor continued to advise during his presidency, called his mentor a researcher at heart who dove right back into his work after leaving the president's office.

"I happen to think that from years of doing administration, it's a welcome change for him," said Mr. Melkonian, one of four graduate students working with Dr. Kapoor.

Dr. Kapoor immigrated to the United States in 1969 and completed a doctorate and master's degree in solid state physics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

He went to work for private industry in California's Silicon Valley before coming to Ohio, where he taught at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and then moved to Cincinnati.

Mr. Melkonian said UT's research community has responded positively to Dr. Kapoor's return.

“We're doing three times as much research now as we were before,” he said. "The research community doesn't look at what position you're in. They mainly look at what you do, what research you do, and how well it is received and accepted."

At the moment, Dr. Kapoor's research involves tiny sensors that can be implanted within humans, measuring biological signals and interfacing with groups of neurons in the brain. Applications of the technology could assist treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Kapoor also is working on small computer chips for use in space communication.

Linda Storer, Dr. Kapoor's executive secretary since he joined the university, said he has tackled his work with students with zeal and energy, although the 20-hour workdays of his presidency are gone.

“He's still as aggressive as he's always been. Just his focus has changed” she said. “Of course, the stress is off, so it's a bit more relaxed for all of us.”

Dr. Kapoor initiated enormous change after he was named the university's 14th president, especially in the institution's leadership.

All nine of UT's deans were replaced, and more than 100 professors and 100 staff members were lost to resignation or early retirement. They were not replaced due to a hiring freeze, resulting in financial savings but leaving some departments understaffed.

Some faculty members, such as Heinz Bulmahn, UT's former interim vice provost and dean of the graduate school, left for nearby Bowling Green State University.

Dan Brennan, vice chairman of the UT board of trustees, flatly suggested that the ex-president's legacy will be one of loss.

"I think that five years from now when someone looks back at the Kapoor administration, what will stand out most will be the loss of good key personnel," Mr. Brennan said. "There were a lot of bodies in its wake."

Since Dr. Kapoor's resignation, other leaders of the UT board of trustees have called the administration a mistake, citing failures of communication as well as problems putting together the university budget.

"We were being told one thing, and the facts as we ascertained them later were not what we were being told," said James Tuschman, who became president of the board of trustees in June. “Shame on us. We weren't listening.”

Mr. Tuschman and Mr. Brennan were early supporters of Dr. Kapoor, backing him in the 5-2 vote - with two trustees absent - that made him president.

Some of Dr. Kapoor's co-workers feel he was judged unfairly.

“Change is difficult for people,” said Bob Abella, an engineering professor who was vice president of enrollment and placement services in the Kapoor administration.

“Many people wanted to achieve [Dr. Kapoor's] goals. I don't think everyone knew what had to be done to achieve them,” he said.

More importantly, Dr. Abella said, Dr. Kapoor left in a professional manner and remains determined to succeed in his new endeavors.

“Vik is a very strong person, and you would expect Vik to endure just about anything life gives him,” he said. “I think as long as Vik is successful, he's going to be happy.”



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