Education 2023: MICHAEL RAO
PRESIDENT, VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY, RICHMOND
In his 14th year at VCU, Rao has had a year of ups and downs.
VCU opened its $125 million STEM building in April, and in May it announced an $18 million donation from Washington, D.C.-based real estate analytics company CoStar Group to build an academic building for arts and innovation. However, VCU Health made headlines in May when it was revealed that it paid $73 million to exit a redevelopment project in downtown Richmond that would have provided more space for the health system. In June, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that VCU’s board of visitors were unaware of that because VCU Health’s board members had been told to keep it confidential. In the wake of media reports, former Gov. Doug Wilder called for Rao’s firing and a state investigation.
One of the nation’s youngest college presidents when he was tapped to lead California’s Mission College in 1992, Rao became president of Central Michigan University in 2000 and was hired to lead VCU in 2009 at age 42. During his tenure, the university’s footprint has expanded by 5.3 million-plus square feet. VCU is the largest employer in the Richmond area.