Jayanth R. Banavar named provost and senior vice president

Jayanth Banavar

Jayanth R. Banavar, a distinguished physicist and dean at the University of Maryland, will join the University of Oregon this summer as provost and senior vice president.

Currently dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences at Maryland, Banavar’s hiring as the UO’s next chief academic officer is the culmination of a nationwide recruitment that started in August. He will start his job on campus in July.

“The provost is the guardian of our academic excellence, working with faculty members, staff, students and other stakeholders across campus to ensure that we maintain the highest possible quality of scholarly activity and educational programs,” said Michael H. Schill, president and professor of law. “I am confident that Jayanth has the experience, vision, wisdom and leadership skills to work collaboratively with constituencies across this campus to deliver on those ambitious expectations. He was far and away our first choice out of a talented pool of nationally prominent academic leaders.”

The provost and senior vice president is responsible for working with the president, deans and faculty to set the academic priorities for the campus and for managing the human and capital resources to support those priorities. In the coming years, the provost will lead efforts to continue the institution’s recruitment of new faculty members, retain the talented faculty already here, realize the UO’s aggressive student success goals and oversee the implementation of a new academic budget system.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as provost and help advance the academic vision of President Schill and the entire campus community,” Banavar said. “I look forward to sharing my passion for academic excellence with the talented and diverse students, staff and faculty who have helped position the University of Oregon among the best public research universities in the nation.”

Efforts to hire a new provost began in August, when Schill created a 17-member search committee with representatives from key student, faculty and staff stakeholder groups. The committee’s work of recruiting a strong pool of national academic leaders and vetting whether they might be a good fit for the UO was led by Geri Richmond, Presidential Chair in Science and professor of chemistry.

“In my many years on search committees for top leadership posts in university and organizations, I have never seen such unanimity in positive opinions of a candidate — from our search committee and others that also interviewed him on campus,” Richmond said. “Professor Banavar will bring to our campus a breadth of leadership experience, scholarly achievement and a passion for public higher education that, in concert with President Schill, will take us to the next level of excellence in education and scholarship at the University of Oregon.”

Banavar, whose research frequently involves interdisciplinary collaboration with the life sciences, is currently focused on applying the techniques of statistical physics to solve interdisciplinary problems, explaining, for example, why biological molecules tend to curl up into helices or to understand the rich biodiversity of tropical forests and coral reefs.

“We have gained not only a capable, and kind, academic leader, but a top-tier scientist working on the interface between physics and biology,” said Chris Sinclair, associate professor of mathematics, vice president of the University Senate and member of the search committee. “If you look at Banavar’s previous administrative roles — and the transformation of those institutions while under his guidance — it is clear that he inspires excellence. I am excited to work with him to bring the UO to the next level.”

Prior to joining Maryland, Banavar served as Distinguished Professor and George A. and Margaret M. Downsbrough Department Head of Physics at Pennsylvania State University. He received a bachelor of science with honors and a master of science in physics from Bangalore University.

He earned his doctorate in physics from the University of Pittsburgh. A fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he has more than 300 publications in refereed journals, 11 book chapters, a book he coedited and three patents.

Banavar will replace Scott Coltrane, who last June announced his plans to retire this summer. Coltrane joined the UO in 2008 as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. During his tenure, he has also served as interim provost and interim president.

“Scott has served as a valuable counselor and trusted resource throughout this process,” Schill said. “We are grateful that he will work closely with Jayanth over the coming months to ensure a smooth transition in the Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs.”

A transition email has been created for Banavar at provosttransition@uoregon.edu. Additional information also is available on the provost transition website, and Schill’s announcement is available on the president’s website.