Professor’s impact remembered

When she thinks about her husband’s work, Kavita Kulkarni chuckles and explains that his priorities were all wrong.

“His first wife was his work, his second wife was his children and I came in third,” she said. “I could never find my husband on the weekends. He was always doing something work-related.”

Kavita’s husband, Arun Kulkarni, a professor of toxicology at USF until 2003, died Sunday after battling a long illness. He was 63.

After studying in India and moving to the United States in 1969, Arun Kulkarni arrived at USF in 1987 after teaching at the University of Michigan. His teaching style endeared him to students and colleagues alike, said Thomas Bernard, chair of the Environmental and Occupational Health Department. Bernard said Arun Kulkarni was greatly respected by all of his students, most of which remember him from the large classes that he was responsible for teaching.

But Arun Kulkarni did not earn his popularity by giving students an easy ride.

“If you wanted an easy ‘A,’ his classes were not for you,” said Kavita Kulkarni. “If you wanted to get an ‘A,’ you would have to work your butt off.” He believed that you had to work for what you wanted, and that’s exactly what he made his students do. “He was tough, mostly because he was a perfectionist. But when graduate students came out of his class, they were ready for the world.”

Bernard said Arun Kulkarni, whom he described as a quiet and thoughtful person, was at his best working with doctoral students. Bernard also praised his willingness to give one-on-one instruction.

“He was wonderful to work with, and he always gave great advice,” said Bernard.

Kulkarni’s reputation extended well beyond USF. Many of his scientific research papers have been published, and he helped many of his students get their own work published as well. He had an outstanding international reputation,” said Bernard. “He brought an endowed and distinguished professorship to the school.”

Bernard added that Arun Kulkarni was responsible for obtaining many large donations for the school.

“He had that force of personality and strength that led him to develop important relationships that brought national recognition to the College of Public Health,” said Bernard.

Outside of his profession, Arun Kulkarni had several other interests. “He loved to cook,” said Kavita Kulkarni. She said that there were some nights when he would not allow her to cook dinner, and that he alone would prepare an entire meal for his family. He also enjoyed gardening, traveling and building.

“He liked to build furniture and even built a model railroad for our son,” Kavita Kulkarni said. “We couldn’t figure out how he made such a thing. He was no engineer, but that thing ran like crazy.”

Kulkarni retired from USF in 2003 after suffering from a stroke.

“He was a very humble and talented man and a very good and loving husband,” Kavita Kulkarni said.