USC Upstate Chancellor Candidate: Dr. Mrinal Varma


Dr. Mrinal Varma (Credit: USC Upstate Communications)


Dr. Mrinal Varma interviewed for the vacant Chancellor position at the University of South Carolina Upstate the past two days. Varma is Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., (AUM) and is a tenured professor of Healthcare Administration.


Varma described himself as a “transformative service leader” and aims to work alongside the University to capitalize on its strengths through those of his own. He told faculty and students at an open forum today he is impressed with USC Upstate and what appeals to him most is how it is a “student centered University, with a focus on student success, student life and career offers.”


He is excited to work alongside the “outstanding faculty and staff.” Varma said, “before I applied for this job, I looked at the different bios of the staff and it was very, very impressive.”


Academically, Varma believes that USC Upstate has the opportunity to have its own MSA (Master of School Administration) and MBA (Master of Business Administration) programs. He said that Upstate already has a strong undergraduate program, but by accumulating passionate researchers and professors within their designated field, he challenged the university, “why not take it to the next level?”


Varma put a lot of emphasis on marketing. Brand building is something that we must invest in,” he said. “When we come up with our marketing campaigns, we have to make sure we pay attention to the digital component.”


Varma reflected on his experience at AUM and how he faced initial resistance against a bigger budget to invest in advertising on social media. He argued that there would be a return on investment, and it is a necessity in this digital age. A $1 million budget turned into $5 million with Varma’s efforts into fundraising for that segment.


Varma said Upstate has a “great marketing team, but I think it needs investment.” He said someone told him that Upstate is “the best kept secret” but counters that with “we shouldn’t be the best kept secret. We are a gem; we should shine, and everybody should notice it.”


A high premium on recruitment, high-caliber faculty and diversity is paramount for a university, Varma said.


Varma earned his Bachelor of Science Honors in 1990 and his Master of Science degree in Anthropology in 1992 from the University of Delhi. He continued his education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he gained his Master of Business Administration in 1998. Varma returned to the University of Delhi for his Doctor of Philosophy, Economic Anthropology and Cultural Ecology in 2003. He attended Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he participated in the Management Development program in 2008 and the Institute for Management and Leadership in Education in 2015.


Before UAM, Varma served at the University of Houston – Clear Lake, where he helped guide the school to record enrollment through innovative recruitment and retention programs. He was the associate vice president for academic affairs and deputy chief academic officer 2008 – 2017.


Chancellor finalists continue today with Angela W. Peters, Provost and Vice President of academic affairs at Albany (Ga.) State University scheduled. Dedric A. Carter, Vice Chancellor for Operations & Technology transfer at Washington University in St. Louis, and Bennie L. Harris, Senior Vice President at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta complete the candidates invited to interview.

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