Meet UTA President Vistasp Karbhari

A Visionary Leader for an Urban Flagship

| photography by Alex Lepe |

“Why would anyone not want to come to The University of Texas at Arlington? It is a remarkable university. It’s known for its innovation. It’s known for its dedicated faculty, and it’s known for its tremendous students. It is the urban flagship. It is the model 21st century university. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be president of UTA.”

An interesting and spirited conversation with Dr. Vistasp Karbhari, the eighth president at The University of Texas at Arlington, leaves no doubt as to his immense pride in the university he has served since June 2013. 

When Karbhari first looked at the opportunity to accept the position at UTA, there were three things that stood out in his mind, he said.

“It’s a university that is geographically located at the center of a metropolitan area that is growing in both economic strength and regarding population,” he said. “How many universities have the opportunity to have such a great impact on the future of a metropolitan area? At the current rate of growth, we probably will be a mega-city of 10 million within the next decade or 15 years at the maximum. Our faculty is working on the issues that most mega-cities have to face: transportation, water supply, the inequities between rich and poor, social services, and education. The impact that we could have on this community, and its ability to not have the same problems as other mega-cities across the globe, is a huge opportunity,” he said.

The second reason, said Karbhari, is UTA’s innovative approach to reaching greater numbers of students, “re-envisioning what the university of the future should be, rather than focusing on the university of the past,” he said. “UTA cares about the mission of what I call urban flagship, if you will, trying to focus on the population that we serve.”    

The third reason was the diversity and talent in the student population. “You walk around campus today, and you take a photograph,” Karbhari said. “You show it to someone else, and to them, it will appear to be posed, because you will capture people from different ethnicities that speak different languages, yet they are a cohesive student body.” 

Karbhari served previously at three universities: the University of Delaware, where he received his Ph.D. and stayed on as a faculty member; University of California San Diego, where he spent most of his career; and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, which is a research university focused on science and technology.

Karbhari is a prolific researcher, scholar and inventor. He holds one patent and has served as principal investigator or co-principal investigator on more than $37 million in research projects.

In Feb. 2015, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education named UTA in the elite group of R-1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity. UTA joined a distinguished group of 115 institutions, private and public, including Harvard, MIT, and Johns Hopkins.

“This is an important classification because it looks across the entire university,” Karbhari said. “It’s focused on all of our degrees, and it’s a testament to the wonderful work being done by our faculty. For us, it means a lot, not just to be good at engineering or science, but to be good across the board in trying to bring a research focus. Research and teaching, at least in my mind, are the same side of the coin. You cannot be a top-notch university today if you do not have the very best teachers that will educate our next generation of leaders. You cannot do that without being active in research, scholarship and creative activity.”

Karbhari emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research, for which the university has established opportunities for faculty to collaborate, including seed grants.

“Most of the research and the advances even in knowledge are not within a single discipline,” Karbhari said. “By getting the faculty to collaborate, we are making such fabulous leaps and bounds, in not only changing the knowledge that we have but also the application of that knowledge. It’s just wonderful hearing about the work they are doing and the enthusiasms that they bring, and the impact that they are going to have by tackling topics as an interdisciplinary team.”

As to his management style, Karbhari said: “I am data-oriented, one who very much wants to be sure that we plan and know why we are doing certain things. It is an atmosphere where we all have to be driven to do the very best that we can, but we all have to depend on each other. So, as a style of management, it’s basically getting the right people in place and trying to stay out of their way. I believe I have a very strong leadership team.”

President Karbhari and his wife Lisa live in Arlington with Gabriella, their beloved German Shepherd Dog.