Janis Weeks, Biology and African Studies
Dr. King once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate."
For more than 20 years, Biology professor Dr. Janis Weeks has embodied this ideal in the classes she teaches, the research she directs, her mentoring of students and colleagues, and the service she provides in communities in Zimbabwe, Senegal as well as here in Eugene. She has championed not only critical thinking, but concentration on solutions to difficult problems in global health.
In his letter nominating Professor Weeks for this award, Biology department chair Patrick Phillips said, “Her work in so many areas selflessly exemplifies Dr. King's passion for social fairness, setting a caring example, building morale, showing active compassion, working diligently toward cultural diversity, and promoting cultural awareness, diversity, social justice and equity on the University of Oregon campus.”
Dr. Weeks' interest in promoting excellence in neuroscience research and teaching around the world led her to teach in Africa –and upon her return, she redirected her teaching at the U of O from neurobiology to global health, developing two U of O courses that teach undergraduates to explore the biological basis of diseases, as well as possible health care responses that are practical and possible.
Dr. Weeks has inspired countless students over the years – and one of them wrote in support of her nomination: “I had the pleasure of fulfilling one of my Robert D. Clark Honor’s College course requirements in professor Weeks’ HIV/AIDS in central Africa colloquium. The course was a breath of fresh air, avoiding the typical pictures of emaciated African orphans with pot-bellies. Instead, we studied HIV’s tendencies on a molecular level, societal norms in high-risk areas and what NGOs and pharmaceutical companies are doing to combat the virus.”
Another supporting colleague said: “Janis’s influence in bringing diversity to the U of O extends beyond applying her neurological muscle to social issues. For a long time, she has been involved with the Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center in Eugene, which is “dedicated to the music and people of Zimbabwe.”
She is a performer and has been a board member and education director of the Center. She has brought cultural enrichment and artistic diversity, hosting many Zimbabwean musicians who perform in Eugene, including a number of concerts at the U of O, and around the Pacific Northwest.”
In her biology classes, Dr. Weeks assigns “Mountains beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World” as a course-book. Dr. Farmer, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and world-renowned innovator in health care in developing world, has been an inspiration for her.
She explained: “Students are initially confused about why I assign a biography in a biology course (along with all the technical reading) but then report that the book showed them how one determined person who's willing to challenge the status quo can have phenomenal impact.”
Like Dr. Farmer and Dr. King, Janis Weeks has challenged the status quo had a phenomenal impact on our campus community as well as communities all over the globe. We are pleased to honor that impact, and join her husband, Biology Professor Bill Roberts. and her sons Alex & Jake, in congratulating her for this Award.