Former University of Oregon Provost Jayanth Banavar resigned effective July 1, and he has passed the torch to his successor: Patrick Phillips.
Phillips, who has worked at the university since 2000 as both an educator and an administrator (including two years as the executive director of the Knight Campus), said he plans to strengthen the school's role as a benefit to the state. In doing so, he hopes to make the University of Oregon "one of the nation's top public research institutions," as well as a representative of Oregon's character as a state — referring to both the region’s natural beauty and its culture that captivated him after moving from California.
Phillips said he wanted to become provost because he loves universities. "When I found out as a freshman in college that I could actually make my living never leaving college — that was an easy decision for me,” he said. “My favorite day of the year is move-in day when I see all the hope and the families working together and moving in and the dads carrying the refrigerators in."
Citing Phillips’s successful history of leadership, UO President Michael Schill called Phillips “one of the UO’s most productive and prolific scientists” in a university-wide message about his appointment to the provost position.
As the top academic officer, the provost sets priorities for the whole institution, managing finances and faculty and coordinating between staff and administration.
Phillips is inheriting a $34 million budget deficit, with rising costs and uneven budget cuts. UO raised tuition by 6.9 percent for in-state residents while slicing $11.6 million from various campus employees and programs, a decision that some felt hit departments, like the arts and humanities, disproportionately. The situation is complex and the path forward is unclear, but the choices he makes in handling the effects of the budget crisis will inevitably ripple.
In an interview with the Emerald, Phillips said that the Office of the Provost must pay attention to the funding balance to ensure that tuition dollars go toward students. Phillips said the solution begins with the need to “fully embrace our mission as a public university, one firmly grounded in the strengths, values, opportunities and challenges of our very unique state.”
Becoming a valuable research institution for the state at large, he said, will increase the university’s value to the state and help secure funding in the long term.
“It’s an investment to the whole state to have students who are doing well. And the opposite is also true — if we have students who are being driven underwater, that’s going to hurt the state,” Phillips said. “Right now, we are shifting the burden so much on students that we forget or miss the point that investment in a public education helps the entire state.”
Before his new position started, Phillips used the time to meet with deans and faculty to learn about what each department is working on, what they need or want and how they operate at the ground level. He said those discussions will continue through the summer.
“Listening will be the first order of the day, and I know that each of the colleges and schools have existing plans and dreams that I am eager to hear about,” Phillips wrote in a letter to his colleagues after being chosen. “One of my primary goals as provost is to make sure that we weave together previously unconnected strengths and ideas in a way that advances the institution as a whole.”
He also addressed the budget problem in a letter to university staff after being chosen as provost.
“A top challenge for this — and every — university is the increasing cost of education and the rising question of whether what we do is worth it to the student,” Phillips wrote. “In all that we do, we must serve students first.”
Schill’s announcement alluded to that search for a budgetary balance as well.
“Patrick fiercely believes that achieving our academic ambitions and serving the next generation of students will require a holistic approach that requires world-class offerings from the arts, humanities, and professional programs,” Schill wrote, just a few months after a round of cuts made in May which some felt disproportionately affected the arts and humanities side of the university.
Immediate issues like the budget deficit will likely take first priority, but Phillips also has a vision for growth.
Part of that vision is to capitalize on Oregon’s qualities as a state in the making — to become, as he put it, a “university in Oregon,” not just a “university of Oregon.” As a native Californian, Phillips decided to continue his career in Oregon after falling in love with the state’s culture and nature, qualities he hopes to infuse into the identity of the institution.
“We have this educational role for students, but I also think that we have a broader societal role in terms of being kind of intellectual leaders and have the potential at least to talk about policy,” Phillips said. He said because Oregon is still a growing state, the university can play a vital role in crafting solutions and including students in discussions about their state.
“Ten years from now, when you say, ‘I went to the University of Oregon,’” Phillips said, “you want people to say, ‘Oh my gosh, the University of Oregon, what an amazing place.’”