Then & Now: Javier Reyes continues rise in world of academia
Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Jan. 3 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
A decade ago, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal pegged Javier Reyes as an up-and-comer in the academic world.
Ten years later, he remains on an upward arc.
Reyes, a 2011 Forty Under 40 honoree, is in his first year as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). His appointment began on Aug. 6.
UIC is a public research university with a fall 2021 enrollment of about 34,000, a record number for a seventh straight year. As the university’s chief academic officer, Reyes provides advice on educational policy, strategic direction, enrollment management and academic resource planning.
“I pinch myself when I come to the office and see the opportunity to learn and empower faculty research, student success, and learn how to move this institution forward,” Reyes said in a recent interview. “I am really ecstatic about this opportunity.”
Known in academia as a scholar and innovator, Reyes, 46, is considered an expert in distance education, global economic matters, an accomplished researcher and has published articles in many leading economics and business journals.
Before moving to Chicago, Reyes was dean of the John Chambers College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University (WVU) since 2016 and vice president for Startup West Virginia since 2018.
Under his leadership, WVU named its College of Business for former Cisco Systems CEO and alumnus John Chambers in November 2018.
The total enrollment of the Chambers College of Business grew by 20% during Reyes’ five years in Morgantown, and WVU launched new online degree programs in Healthcare MBA, MS Economics and MS Cybersecurity. He also established the Building Beyond fundraising campaign to construct a futuristic new home for the college, which will open in 2022.
Reyes spent 13 years in Northwest Arkansas before moving to West Virginia. He joined the University of Arkansas economics faculty in 2003 after earning a Ph.D. in economics from Texas A&M University. He later became vice provost for distance education and associate dean for undergraduate studies and executive education at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
While at the UA, Reyes was an invited lecturer or visiting scholar at several institutions internationally, including the Clinton School of Public Service and the International Monetary Fund.
Reyes, one of seven finalists in March 2020 to be the president of the University of Central Florida, said UIC is a world-class research university with a culturally rich and diverse student body. He noted various similarities between UIC, West Virginia and Arkansas — all three maintain the elite academic classification as a Research I (RI) university — but Chicago’s urban landscape was one of the reasons why the job appealed to him.
Born and raised in Mexico City, which rivals Chicago on many levels, Reyes said he’d never lived in a city of such size and magnitude since coming to the United States to begin his academic career nearly 25 years ago.
“We’re about to be empty-nesters,” he joked of him and his wife. Their oldest of two sons is a sophomore in college. The youngest will graduate high school this year. “Chicago is a great canvas for us to find different activities through that transition. It offers a way to reinvent ourselves.
“But I will tell you, even with the new activities and opportunities here in Chicago as they would be in other places, what we are enjoying the most is making new friends. We have made friends that become family in every town we’ve lived.”
Reyes said he has 30 years of his career left, and he is looking forward to growing in the profession and continuing to move higher education forward.
“A good friend of mine in Mexico gave me the best advice when I was studying for my Ph.D. at Texas A&M,” Reyes recalled. “He said, ‘You will become part of the cadre of individuals across the world who are supposed to move the frontier of knowledge forward.’ I was a good researcher, but now being on the administrative side, my job is to provide the platform for the faculty to continue to move knowledge forward. That is the only way we will remain relevant for students who are changing every year.”