UO Provost Jayanth Banavar talks diversity, student success and his first term at UO
University of Oregon Provost Jayanth Banavar has very full days. Meetings with faculty, with students and with deans from different schools and colleges — all with the aim to solve as many issues as he can.
“The job I have is really to be a champion for our students, for our staff and for our faculty,” Banavar said. “And being a champion therefore means hearing what their problems are and trying to come up with solutions.”
Banavar grew up in India, and at a young age wanted to go into physics. He would eventually become a professor at the University of Maryland.
“I was brought up in India, and in India people sort of begin to specialize in a given subject at a somewhat young age,” Banavar said. “So when I was about 16 years old, I had to specialize in some subject, and I chose physics. Since then I have been studying physics, so it started a long time ago and continues to this day.”
Banavar replaced former provost Scott Coltrane in July, after he was attracted to UO’s open provost position.
“I had a terrific meeting with [UO President] Michael Schill and I really liked his values and I had heard some lovely things about the University of Oregon, how good the people are, how promising the future is,” Banavar said. “I had also heard about this magnificent gift of the Knights to create the Knight Science Campus. It seemed to me that there was a real opportunity for me with a background in science, but a desire to really help others to come here and try to make a difference.”
One of Banavar’s biggest projects is to improve the diversity at UO, in which he found a striking difference from his time at Maryland.
“It’s very different in the sense that one of the things I have found is that Maryland, which is very close to D.C., was a lot more diverse than Eugene is, and one of things I think makes a university or an institution better is to be more diverse,” Banavar said. “I believe that diversity and inclusion are pillars of academic excellence, and so that’s one of the things that I want to do here, is to bring in people with all kinds of ideas, all kinds of backgrounds, because that makes our university and our student experience better.”
One of the ways Banavar has listened to students was by staying at the recent protest at the State of University address. He felt this was important to do, and wanted to understand the full scope of the protest.
“When people are in anguish, or when they were trying to speak up and are trying to say something, it’s very important that as a member of the university and a representative of the students and of Michael Schill, I just felt that I should try to hear what people have to say and I should try to help in whatever way I can,” Banavar said. “I just care and I wanted to listen and I wanted to communicate whatever I learned to Michael Schill, and if I got a chance I wanted to talk to the students and hear directly about their concerns and try to help.”
One of the biggest things that Banavar looks forward to is the development of the Knight Science Campus. He looks forward to working with other universities to develop a stronger scientific presence at a university that historically has been stronger in the liberal arts.
“I’m most excited about it because it is something that is going to determine the future of our university,” said Banavar. “We have a magnificent $500 million gift, and it allows one to go from innovation to impact because the whole notion of the Knight Science Campus is to accelerate impact. We can work with our sister institutions in the state and elsewhere. Oregon State University has a really good engineering program, the Oregon Health and Science University has a fine medical program, and we can take innovations in the basic sciences and go all the way to impact and changing people’s lives.”
For the time being, Banavar is focused deeply on improving the lives of faculty and students, and has been enjoying doing so.
“I feel very happy to have the job that I do,” Banavar said. “I really am trying hard to make it better for our students and every day that something good happens, I feel very grateful.”
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