Arcadia University President Ajay Nair has been named a 2020 Minority Business Leader by the Philadelphia Business Journal. The award recognizes the Philadelphia region's top minority business leaders based on demonstrated business success over the past 12 to 18 months.
Dr. Nair is the first person of color to be appointed president at Arcadia and is among the first college or university presidents of Indian-American descent in the United States. His first day in office, April 2, 2018, Dr. Nair met students on Haber Green who were protesting about faculty tenures, and listened as they discussed the type of University they wanted to be part of: one that was transparent, community-oriented, and student-centered.
Within two weeks assuming his role, Dr. Nair instituted Arcadia UKnighted, a presidential initiative and interactive forum for members of the University community to engage in dialogue and collaborate to enhance Arcadia. The collaborative process led to ARCADIA 2025, an adaptive strategy that remains true to the themes of the University’s collaborative UKnighted community work—Academic Excellence Through Impact and Authenticity; Student Success and Engagement; Social Responsibility and Impact; and Campus, Culture, and Community.
Dr. Nair has made addressing the inequities in diversity in leadership a priority: As of June 2020, half of the 10 members of Arcadia’s President’s Cabinet are people of color, far greater than the national average. In fall 2019, President Nair spoke with multiple media outlets and with leaders in government and higher education on the importance of increasing diversity in higher education, and was featured in the Oct. 8 Chronicle of Higher Education in an extensive interview on the issue. He’s also published on this important topic in major media outlets such as The Philadelphia Inquirer.
During the disrupted spring semester, Dr. Nair kept in regular contact with members of the Arcadia community and township and government officials, through personal videos as well as official University statements. He ensured that students with nowhere to go, or who were unable to go home, could remain on campus in housing for as long as they needed. Dr. Nair also helped to spearhead efforts to facilitate relationships with local schools and organizations, and Arcadia helped to produce and distribute various personal protective equipment resources and food to area organizations.
As issues of systematic racism came to the forefront of communities across the country, Dr. Nair joined thousands of protestors in Glenside and Philadelphia. On June 11, he laid out a plan that would move Arcadia University forward, and then worked with community leaders to develop measurable outcomes toward those plan goals.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by the Philadelphia Business Journal for simply doing what’s right, as Arcadia strives to be a model for higher education institutions,” said Dr. Nair. “Equity is at the heart of what we do to serve students of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and races. At Arcadia, we want a community that reflects the world we would like to live in.”
Dr. Nair will be recognized in a ceremony this fall, which will be held online or in-person depending on health and safety guidelines of COVID-19.
In addition to the Minority Business Leader award, Dr. Nair was recognized in 2019 by the Philadelphia 76ers during a pregame ceremony as part of the team’s sixth annual Indian American Heritage Night. At the 2018 Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) Conference, Dr. Nair received the Dr. Doris Michiko Ching Shattering the Glass Ceiling Award for his impact on the Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American community through his leadership, service, and scholarship.
Below is an excerpt from an interview with the award committee:
“What is it like leading a university during the Covid-19 crisis?
The misfortunes of Covid-19 won’t be shared equally among stakeholders; identities including, but not limited to, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, sexual violence survivors, and citizenship status could make a significant difference in the ramifications of the virus. It’s important for us as leaders to consider what we can and should do for all of our community members, and especially the most vulnerable among us, during this unprecedented crisis.
How have you prioritized diversity in leadership at Arcadia University?
At Arcadia, we’ve made it a priority to have our executive leadership and board better reflect our student body. We’re proud that we have increased diversity among our executive leadership and board by nearly 20% over the past year, including a 50% increase in our senior administration. These new appointments were not made on diversity, though; each new executive or board member is the right person for the role.”