Michael Rao

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Michael Rao
5th President of
Virginia Commonwealth University
Assumed office
Preceded byEugene P. Trani
12th President of
Central Michigan University
In office
Preceded byLeonard E. Plachta
Succeeded byKathy Wilbur
Personal details
Born1967 (age 51–52) [1]
Boston, Massachusetts
Spouse(s)Monica Rao
ResidenceRichmond, Virginia
Alma materUniversity of Florida
University of South Florida
ProfessionAcademic administrator

Michael Rao is an American academic administrator who is the current president of Virginia Commonwealth University, a public university in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Rao previously served as the president of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan and Mission College in Santa Clara, California. Additionally, he served as the Chancellor of Montana State University–Northern.

Early life and education[edit]

Rao, the son of a physician from Mumbai, India, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. At age 8, he moved with his mother to rural Pasco County, Florida, after the early death of his father, Suresh Rao.[2]

He received his bachelor's degree in Chemistry from the University of South Florida and his doctorate in Higher Education Administration from the University of Florida.[3]

Academic career[edit]

Rao has been an administrator for more than 20 years. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rao served in the private sector as a higher education academic program planner. In this role, he created master plans for the University of Washington system and the University of California. He also served as assistant to the president at the University of Florida, a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU).[4]

In 1992, Rao became a dean at Mission College in Santa Clara, California, and became president of the college two years later. This move gave him the distinction of being the youngest college president in the country at that time.[5] In 1998, he became chancellor of Montana State University - Northern in Havre.

In 2000, at the age of 34, Rao was chosen to be president of Central Michigan University, a large public, research university. CMU is the fourth largest of Michigan's 15 public universities. His work at CMU focused on interdisciplinary academic program development, economic development through commercialization of research, fundraising for the university, and outreach to the Central Michigan region.[6] During his tenure and despite state budget cuts, CMU 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.[7] When he left CMU in 2009, Rao was one of the three longest-serving presidents among Michigan's 15 public universities.

In 2009, Rao became president of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Some of his academic work involving phenothiazine drugs is published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry. His work continues occasionally with an analytical chemist with whom he examines properties of hyperbranched polymers designed for drug delivery.

Virginia Commonwealth University presidency[edit]

Rao was selected to be the president of Virginia Commonwealth University in 2009. As president of VCU and the VCU Health System, he leads a national research university with a leading academic medical center that, with nearly 20,000 employees, is the largest employer in the Richmond area and the sixth largest in Virginia. VCU's annual economic impact in the state is estimated at $3.6 billion and more than 43,000 jobs. VCU's community impact, economic and cultural, was particularly evident during the Rams’ run to the Final Four in the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, which brought out an unparalleled display of pride from both the VCU community and the greater Richmond area. In his capacity as president of the VCU Health System, Rao heads one of the nation's most comprehensive academic health centers, which is ranked among the best hospitals in the country as well as the No. 1 hospital in the Richmond-metro area by U.S. News & World Report.[8]

Under Rao's leadership, VCU's place among national research universities continues to rise, with 28 graduate and first-professional programs ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Rao continues to steer infrastructure improvements to bolster priority initiatives, such as a new medical education center for VCU's School of Medicine, a state-of-the-art facility that enabled the school to increase class size and transform medical education.[9]

During his tenure, VCU has been designated in the top research category by the Carnegie Foundation, which, in combination with its community engaged distinction, makes VCU one of only 28 public universities in the country with an academic medical center to achieve this prestigious dual distinction.[10]

Also under his watch were undergraduate living/learning residential villages focused on community engagement and international themes. VCU ASPiRE opened in fall 2012, followed one year later by VCU Globe, a state-of-the-art academic building which is a technology showcase and home to VCU's nationally ranked School of Social Work and its Center for Teaching Excellence.[11]

In addition, Rao announced plans for the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art, which will be a signature building for the VCU School of Arts — the nation's top-ranked public graduate arts program.[12]

Quest for Distinction[edit]

Launched by Rao in 2011, the university's strategic plan, Quest for Distinction, sets priorities of academic excellence; research that enhances the quality of life, human health, and well-being; and contributions to the economic vitality and cultural richness of the community. Strategic efforts focus on academic quality, student success, and research that fosters regional economic development and improves lives.[13]

The plan rests upon four themes that outline the university's institutional priorities, strategies and initiatives.[14]

Theme I: Become a leader among national research universities in providing all students with high quality learning/living experiences focused on inquiry, discovery and innovation in a global environment

Theme II: Attain preeminence as an urban, public research university by making contributions in research, scholarship, creative expression and clinical practice that bring national and international recognition

Theme III: Achieve national recognition as a fully integrated research university with a commitment to human health

Theme IV: Become a national model for community engagement and regional impact


Michael Rao was officially installed as VCU's fifth president on October 14, 2011 in an inauguration ceremony at the Siegel Center. The event was marked with two weeks of activities designed to highlight the urban university's commitment to student success, academic excellence, research and human health. VCU hosted a Presidential Inauguration Research Lecture Series, a university-wide food drive, and events highlighting VCU's commitment to sustainability. VCU also launched a new tradition recognizing the inaugural class of “University Scholars,” undergraduate students who have completed 54-84 credits and have attained outstanding academic achievement.[15]

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was the event's keynote speaker. He praised VCU's achievements and urged the university to build on its successes, saying, “Through a combination of scholarship, research and creativity, VCU has become a leading example of how an urban university can be both a center of learning and a center of the community. My challenge today to President Rao, to the faculty and to the students is this: Build on what VCU is right now to become a world-class university that leads your state and our nation.”[16]

In his inaugural address, Rao pointed to VCU's past as a source of inspiration, and issued a challenge for its future, stating, “We will be exceptional. We will solve problems. We will find the answers our state, our nation and the world so desperately need. It won’t be about lofty abstractions. It will be about the immediate and intense needs of people.”[17]

In December 2011, VCU extended Michael Rao's contract through June 30, 2017, with automatic renewals allowing for a possible extension until 2020.[18]

Annual Salary at VCU as of 2016:[19] $900,940, making him the highest-paid public employee in Virginia's history.


While president, Rao overlooked a series of protests by adjunct faculty at VCU.[20] The coalition behind the protests critiqued Rao's salary while many adjuncts made poverty level wages.[21] Ahead of the 2018-19 budget, $4.2 million was allocated to increase adjunct faculty funding from $800 to $1,000 per credit hour, about $1,000 less than what the coalition was demanding.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Rao is married to Monica Rao, a professional watercolorist and graphic designer. They have two sons.

Monica Rao is a graduate of Nirmala Niketan Polytechnic Institute in India with a diploma in commercial art/design. She has also received a bachelor's in art/graphic design with a minor in business administration and a master's in leadership from Central Michigan University.[23]

Board service[citation needed][edit]

  • Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce
  • Venture Richmond
  • The Coalition of Urban Serving Universities - Steering Committee on Improving the Health of a Diverse Population
  • Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities - Council of Presidents
  • Association of Governing Boards
  • Center for Innovative Technology – Board of Directors
  • American Heart Association HeartBall 2013 – Co-chair
  • Northern Virginia Technology Council - Senior Advisory Board


  1. ^ "Scholar Archive: Michael Rao", virginia.edu
  2. ^ Andrews, Kate (February 1, 2010). "The New Face of VCU". Richmond Magazine.
  3. ^ "A profile of Michael Rao, VCU's incoming president". Archived from the original on 2013-02-04.
  4. ^ "Michael Rao to be VCU's Fifth President".
  5. ^ "The New Face of VCU".
  6. ^ "Michael Rao to be VCU's Fifth President".
  7. ^ "Michael Rao to be VCU's Fifth President".
  8. ^ http://www.president.vcu.edu/bio/index.htm[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-04-16. Retrieved 2012-10-23.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ http://www.president.vcu.edu/bio/index.htm[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ http://www.nbc12.com/story/19372271/new-vcu-aspire-program-and-dorm-open
  12. ^ http://rvanews.com/news/renowned-architect-to-design-new-contemporary-art-building-for-vcu/43270
  13. ^ http://www.president.vcu.edu/bio/index.htm[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ http://www.future.vcu.edu Archived 2012-10-24 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ http://www.news.vcu.edu/news/VCU_Marks_Inauguration_of_President_Michael_Rao_with_Multiple
  16. ^ http://www.news.vcu.edu/news/VCU_Installs_Michael_Rao_as_its_Fifth_President
  17. ^ http://www.news.vcu.edu/news/VCU_Installs_Michael_Rao_as_its_Fifth_President
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-05. Retrieved 2012-10-23.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ http://data.richmond.com/salaries/2015/state/virginia-commonwealth-university/michael-rao
  20. ^ Mattingly, Justin (December 8, 2017). "VCU adjunct arts professors, community protest low wages". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Berkshire Hathaway. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  21. ^ Pauly, Megan (December 8, 2017). "VCU Adjunct Arts Professors Rally For Higher Pay". WCVE-FM. Commonwealth Public Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved May 10, 2018.
  22. ^ Mattingly, Justin (May 11, 2018). "VCU raises tuition 6.4 percent for 2018-19". The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved May 13, 2018.
  23. ^ "Welcome to the Family" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-11-10.

External links[edit]