After a closed-door internal search, Patrick Phillips, a professor of biology and former acting executive director of the Knight Campus, has been selected to replace Jayanth Banavar as University of Oregon provost and senior vice president.

Banavar announced his resignation in April and will step down effective July 1 — exactly two years after his arrival at the UO.

“Although the UO clearly faces a number of challenges today, I believe that the only way to address these challenges in a sustainable way is to build a long-term vision of what University of Oregon can be–and should be–based on what and where we are,” Phillips wrote in his application for the position. “Specifically, we need to make sure that we capitalize on being a University in Oregon as much as we are the University of Oregon.”

The provost is the university’s chief academic officer who oversees hiring and recruitment of faculty, financial budgeting for academic programs and academic initiatives like changes to course evaluations and the structure of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Phillips is a professor in the biology department and a special advisor to the president for the Knight Campus, according to a profile on the Knight Campus website. Phillips leads a biology lab focused on “how genetic information is translated into the complex organisms that interact in the real world.”

Phillips was formerly the interim director of the Knight Campus, serving in the role since the announcement of the campus in October 2016 until the appointment of the permanent executive director in November 2017.

As acting director, Phillips oversaw the first year of the planning and construction of the campus, including the national search for the permanent director.

“A good working relationship with the President and the knowledge of how best to support [university initiatives] is perhaps the key element of a successful tenure in this position, and I believe that I have that,” Phillips wrote. “It [sic] these already established relationships, as well as my deep knowledge of the structure, operations, and culture of the University, that will allow me to hit the ground running as Provost.”

Picking a provost

According to documents shared with campus stakeholders and obtained by the Emerald, that pool of candidates was narrowed down to three finalists earlier this month. Aside from Phillips, Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh and Scott Pratt were also in contention until the announcement.

Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh has been UO’s vice president for equity and inclusion since 2012, according to a profile on the law school website. Aside from her role as vice president, Alex-Assensoh is a professor of political science.

Scott Pratt already serves in the provost’s office as the executive vice provost for academic affairs, according to the provost’s website. Pratt is also a professor of philosophy, according to his profile and CV on the department’s website.

The university has been tight-lipped about the search for Banavar’s replacement. Aside from one applicant’s public (but now concluded) “campaign” for provost and a few university announcements, there hasn’t been any public information about the applicants being considered.

University officials have consistently justified the secrecy by citing concerns for the privacy of applicants for the university's second-in-command.

Referring to that justification, UO spokesperson Molly Blancett declined to confirm if these three individuals were the finalists.

The current search for a new provost is faster and smaller than the search that brought Banavar to campus in 2017. While the deliberations then were also under wraps, that search included a nationwide call, two students on the search committee and an open house to gain input from community members.

This time around, the search was completely internal and behind closed doors. There were no public input sessions scheduled, no students on the committee and only applicants currently working at UO were eligible.

“Faculty and senate leadership were consulted at the outset of the search,” Blancett said in an email about the search’s structure. “This was done in multiple settings and covered all facets of the search, including internal versus external, composition, timing, and confidentiality.”

The current search took almost three months, while the 2017 search took a year and a half.

In a statement announcing the search, UO President Michael Schill cited a number of campus events, including new buildings, the hiring of new deans and the present budget crisis, as the reasons for keeping the search internal and expedited.

Schill made his decision, according to that statement, based on the feedback from a committee of 16 faculty and administrators.

“From a pool of tremendously strong internal candidates, Patrick emerged as the next provost due to his nearly two decades of distinguished service as one of the UO’s most respected faculty members, a track record of success as an administrative leader, and clear vision for what it will take for this institution to achieve new levels of academic excellence and distinction,” Schill said in a statement about Phillips’ appointment to the position.

The Emerald will continue to report on this story as it develops.

Why and how did you do this story?

As the university’s chief academic officer, the provost impacts the most important parts of UO’s academic mission. While the university has been quiet about the process — even denying Emerald reporters the opportunity to interview outgoing Provost Banavar following his announcement — it is one which defines the academic future of the university.

The Emerald’s requests for information and records about applicants have been denied by the university. The Emerald received the applications of the finalists from a source close to the process and chose to publish only the names of finalists who weren’t selected, out of respect for their privacy.