Ajay Nair appointed as dean of campus life at Emory
As senior associate vice provost for student affairs at Penn, Nair worked to improve quality of student life
May 30, 2012, 7:23 pm·
After a career at Penn dedicated to improving student life, Ajay Nair will begin a new chapter at Emory University as senior vice president and dean of campus life.
Since 2008, Nair has served as senior associate vice provost for student affairs at Penn. On July 16, Nair will succeed John Ford, who has served Emory for the past 11 years. Nair was nominated for the position and selected from a national pool of over 100 candidates.
Nair’s duties at Emory will make him the voice of 13,893 undergraduate and graduate students.
“I will manage a broad portfolio of responsibilities at the University and serve as the chief student advocate,” Nair wrote in an email. “My role as an advocate will still be my primary goal.”
As senior vice president and dean of campus life, Nair will oversee a variety of student life programs, including athletics and recreation, residence life and housing, student health and counseling and career services. He will also help facilitate Emory’s future goals, such as housing 80 percent of undergraduate students on campus by 2015.
“We seek to create an intellectually, culturally and socially vibrant environment … so that students can contribute to positive transformation in the local community,” Emory President James Wagner stated in a press release on May 21. “[Nair’s] commitment to Emory’s vision and values and his demonstrated success … make him a perfect partner in helping Emory provide a robust living and learning environment.”
“I feel honored and privileged to join the Emory family,” Nair said. “Emory’s strong commitment to campus life and academic excellence presents a tremendous opportunity for me to help students reach their fullest potential.”
Nair’s colleagues at Penn believe that he is the type of leader that any university would hope to have.
“I’ve really appreciated his advocacy on gender issues,” Director of the Penn Women’s Center Felicity Paxton said. “He has great communication skills and a keen sense of humor — both of which will serve him well in his future leadership roles.”
“He has helped to do nothing less than reimagine the paradigm for contemporary University life at Penn,” Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum wrote in an email.
At Penn, Nair founded the Student Affairs Leadership Team, a collaboration between students and faculty to improve campus life. He also helped create a development and alumni relations program for the University Life Division.
“His great accomplishment was to advance Penn’s culture of collaboration across schools and units in ways that greatly benefited our students, in both academic and extracurricular spheres,” Vice Provost for Education Andy Binns wrote in an email. “[Nair] has had an enormous impact on Penn.”
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush added that Nair helped ensure student safety during Penn traditions such as Hey Day and Spring Fling. “He has brought a level of collaboration and communication between all Departments and Divisions of the University and definitely left his mark,” she wrote in an email. “Someone will have big shoes to fill.”
Looking back, Nair feels that his time at Penn will serve him well in the future. “I believe my choices and experiences have positioned me well for the Emory SVP/Dean of Campus Life,” Nair wrote in an email. “Penn has allowed me to grow and develop in my leadership role.”
In addition to serving as the senior associate vice provost for student affairs, Nair taught in both the Graduate School of Education and the Asian American Studies Program. His interest in second-generation Asian American identity also led him to co-edit a book entitled Desi Rap: Hip Hop in South Asian America.
“He stands tall as an exemplar for the future of higher education as he is at once a scholar, an educator, a champion for social justic, and a servant to not only the university community, but the greater city as well,” said 2005 College graduate Brian Redondo, Nair’s former student.
“He genuinely cares about the quality of life of the students he works with and is constantly striving to better the university,” said 2012 College graduate Nicky Singh, who worked with Nair through the Asian Pacific Student Coalition. “It is his greatest strength.”
Before coming to Penn, Nair served as associate dean of student affairs at Columbia University, in addition to holding positions at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Virginia.
“Whether in Philly at Penn, in New York at Columbia or soon in Atlanta at Emory, he leaves a lasting legacy of change,” Redondo said.
This article has been updated to properly attribute a quote to Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush, not DPS spokesperson Stef Karp.