Michael Rao to be VCU’s Fifth President

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Michael Rao, Ph.D.
Michael Rao, Ph.D.

The Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors has announced that Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of Central Michigan University, will be VCU’s next president and president of the VCU Health System. He also will be a tenured professor in the School of Education.

Rao, 42, comes to VCU with the experience of three successful presidencies at universities of increasing size and complexity.

“Michael Rao’s accomplishments are remarkable,” said VCU Rector Tom Rosenthal. “Members of the board, the Presidential Search Committee and others representing university groups who have met Mike are excited about the energy, enthusiasm and intelligence he will bring to VCU as its fifth president.”

Rosenthal said the board’s decision was unanimous and comes after an extensive process that sought input from the entire university community about VCU’s future and the type of person who should be its next president. A 17-member, university-wide presidential search committee used that information as it conducted a national search and forwarded recommendations to the VCU Board of Visitors.

"Mike and VCU are about the same age, and they both are just now hitting their strides," said Ed Bersoff, Ph.D., chair of the Presidential Search Committee and former VCU rector. "Our expectations and standards are high for each of them and I am confident that those expectations and standards are likely to be exceeded."  

Rao brings a broad range of educational experience to VCU, including experience as a president of a large doctoral research university, university chancellor, president of a two-year college and a college dean. He also has served in the private sector as a higher education academic program planner.

“I am truly honored to be appointed VCU’s next president. This is the only position I have pursued, and it is because VCU is a dynamic and diverse university in a vibrant city,” Rao said. “It is very clear that VCU is an institution of opportunity with great momentum. I am excited to work with all its stakeholders to carry that momentum forward as we fulfill an important mission as a leading urban research university, with high quality, well-integrated academic programs and a preeminent academic medical center.”

Rao will officially take the helm of the university on July 1 when Eugene P. Trani retires from the positions of VCU president and president and chair of the VCU Health System. Trani will remain at VCU as University Distinguished Professor.

“I am very pleased with the appointment of Michael Rao to be my successor,” Trani said. “I am impressed with his experience and the energy he will bring to one of the best jobs there is. The board and the search committee have found the right person to continue VCU’s transformation as a world class university and academic medical center.”

Rao has served as president and professor at Central Michigan University since 2000. CMU, located in Mount Pleasant, Mich., is a public doctoral research institution with 28,000 students and an operating budget of more than $400 million.

Rao is one of the three longest-serving presidents among Michigan’s 15 public universities. During his tenure and despite state budget cuts, CMU has significantly increased faculty positions and research productivity, developed academic programs and improved performance.

Under Rao’s leadership, CMU gained approval to establish a medical school and M.D. degree program, partnering with large healthcare systems.

Rao previously served as chancellor of Montana State University-Northern in Havre, Mont., and as president of Mission College in Santa Clara, Calif. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rao served in the private sector as a higher education academic program planner. He also served as assistant to the president at the University of Florida, a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU).

Rao earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Florida.

The VCU Board approved Rao’s salary of $488,500, $176,113 of which is paid by state funds and $312,387 from VCU Health System and private funds, for the positions of VCU president and president of the VCU Health System. His total compensation package, approved by the board, also includes $66,500 in deferred compensation, a $60,000 housing allowance, and use of a car, all paid by private funds. Separate from the compensation package, Rao will receive a signing bonus of $275,000, paid by private funds. He will be required to repay $200,000 if he leaves the university within five years.

Rao will return to VCU in a few weeks to meet with faculty, staff and students at open meetings on the Monroe Park and MCV campuses.

Rao and his wife, Monica, a professional watercolorist and graphic designer, have two sons, Miguel, 9, and Aiden, 9 months old.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.