His humor is evident in his speeches. In his first convocation address as interim president, Vaidya joked about the gifts he’d welcome for his one-year anniversary at St. Cloud State University, and ended the address with his “Letterman” countdown of the top things he’s learned during his first year in St. Cloud.
He was named to the appointment by the Minnesota State Board of Trustees in June 2016 following the unexpected death of President Earl H. Potter III.
Prior to his appointment, Vaidya served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at St. Cloud State since July 2015 and stepped in as acting president in the days following Potter’s death.
The loss of a sitting president is a unique challenge for a university and makes the transition to new leadership harder, Vaidya said.
“What’s been on the top of my mind, regardless of what happens beyond two years, is that we facilitate this transition in a good way,” he said. “And that we are stronger, whether it’s a year or two years later, than we were at his passing.”
Start in California
Vaidya previously served California State University, Los Angeles, from 2010-2015 as provost and vice president for academic affairs, and as special advisor to the president for regional economic development.
Before that, he served California State University, Channel Islands as a dean of faculty, MBA director and founding director of the Center for International Affairs.
But he’s more than his resume. Vaidya is a tennis fanatic, and his passion for the San Francisco 49ers runs back to his first years in graduate school.
Vaidya arrived in northern California in 1985 to pursue his Ph.D. in economics at the University of California, Davis, the same year that Super Bowl champions, the San Francisco 49ers, chose an unknown wide receiver from Mississippi Valley State University as its first-round draft pick.
Forty-Niner fan reactions to the pick, football legend Jerry Rice, was Vaidya’s first introduction to the NFL. He has followed Jerry Rice’s career ever since — as the wide receiver worked to become one of the greatest players in league history.
Vaidya and his wife, Nita, celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in August.
They started out as a pair of graduate students working on their Ph.D.’s and have since raised two children and their beloved dogs.
Together they enjoy a love of food. They enjoy watching the Food Network and traveling, especially with their two children.
Vaidya developed a love of travel early on. His father was a government official and would take the family on a trip each year where they’d spend time at a government guest house.
As a new president, he’s found a love for connecting with students, employees and colleagues on social media.
Vaidya is active on social media sending out his first tweet on his presidential Twitter account (@PrezVaidya) from the convocation stage in August.
Since then he’s sent more than 350 tweets and amassed more than 550 followers as he enjoys tweeting about the good work being done by St. Cloud State students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends.
Vision for the future
What inspired him to accept the challenge of leading St. Cloud State through a difficult transition in summer is the same quality that drew him to St. Cloud State as provost — despite the Minnesota winters —a plan for the future of education on campus.
“I came to St. Cloud State because I believed deeply in the vision that has been developed through the last nine years,” he said.
— Ashish Vaidya, interim president
This year he has guided campus through a strategic plan refresh to focus the university on engaging students, engaging community and engaging campus to increase student success and contribute to a prosperous Minnesota. He also led the university through a visit from the Higher Learning Commission’s accrediting body.
“Last summer was unlike any other in the history of St. Cloud State University,” Vaidya said. “We all experienced a great loss, but through that experience we showed our resilience, our care for each other and our neighbors, and our ability to move forward, together, with a continued commitment to student success.
“As I have stepped into my new role as interim president, I am confident in the ability of this university and this community to continue to thrive.”
Vaidya said he has been in awe of the support showed to St. Cloud State and President Potter’s family in the wake of his passing.
The leadership team came together quickly to communicate the news to the campus and the community and assist Potter’s family and those most directly affected by their tragedy.
“It’s about preserving that element because it is so important for us. We will be tested as we have already,” Vaidya said. “We will be tested on multiple occasions and what these things have taught us is that if we all come together for the greater good, it’s really important.”
Beyond seeing St. Cloud State through its transition, Vaidya is focusing on the university’s continued efforts to recover financially from a drop in enrollment early in the decade and creating an enrollment and retention plan for the university moving forward.
“These are indeed exciting times as St. Cloud State is positioned to answer the call for a more responsive, more student success oriented, more accountable and more engaged university and to become a true partner in the success of our state and its people,” he said.