POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 16, 2011
Hawaii Pacific University's next president sees a lot of potential for the state's largest private university and its opportunity to become a leading research institution in the Pacific.
Geoffrey Bannister, who will be the university's fourth president, was selected after a national search and officially begins work on July 1, the university announced yesterday.
Bannister was president of Butler University in Indianapolis for 12 years and more recently served as president of both the Study Abroad Foundation and Cultural Experiences Abroad.
Indiana media reports have credited Bannister's work for the Butler basketball team's appearance in the NCAA Final Four last year even though he had left the school a decade earlier.
Bannister, 65, says he supported the basketball program because it was obvious how important the sport was to the community when he arrived in 1988. It took more than a decade to get the basketball program to its level today, but that is typical of improving programs at universities, he said.
"It takes a long time to build excellence," he said by phone from his Tampa, Fla., home. "The first thing I learned from that was to be patient."
Bannister grew up in New Zealand and received his college education in Canada.
He is looking at the innate strengths of Hawaii's community and how to use them. He sees opportunities in the state's proximity to Asia and the work faculty is doing in the fields of sustainability, indigenous knowledge, Pacific security and island communities.
"It is clear we are entering the century of the Pacific," he said. "We have looked in the past very much to Europe for a lot of our connections. In the future we'll be looking to Asia, Oceania."
He plans to develop a strategy for the university with four to six points of development, enhancing HPU's reputation as a research institution.
He sees the opportunity for HPU to improve the community, much like private universities in other states such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which drives the technology sector in Boston.
"The private universities have the advantage of flexibility and speed," he said. "That's perhaps what we will use to good advantage."
But there are also opportunities for the university to work with the University of Hawaii and reinforce each institution's strengths and develop new ones, he said
HPU selected Bannister last March, after President Chatt Wright announced his plan to retire by this summer.
Wright, 69, became president of the 46-year-old university 35 years ago when it had only 500 students. Today, it has 8,500 students. He sees Bannister as carrying on his work and taking the university to the next level.
"He would fit right in with Hawaii Pacific University's mission and ethos to educate for global citizenship" Wright said.
Tim Lussier, an HPU graduate student and a former member of HPU's student government, agrees the incoming president was the best candidate because of his openness. At an event for students to meet Bannister last year, he said, Bannister greeted the students and took a genuine interest in their thoughts.