Indiana University to present Jonathan Banks with an honorary degree

  • March 7, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Emmy-nominated actor and Indiana University alumnus Jonathan Banks will receive an honorary doctoral degree during the annual IU Bloomington Honors Convocation on April 10.

Best known for his portrayal of Mike Ehrmantraut on the award-winning drama "Breaking Bad," Banks is a journeyman actor with more than 70 television shows and more than 50 movies to his credit. He has been nominated three times for an Emmy: for "Wiseguy" in 1989, "Breaking Bad" in 2013 and "Better Call Saul" in 2015.

He will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. IU is the first university to honor Banks in this way. While he is at IU, he also will meet with students and faculty at The Media School and participate in activities at IU Cinema and the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

Banks has strong family ties to IU and to the state of Indiana. His mother, Elena Adams Banks, earned a bachelor's degree in business from IU in 1945 and was a professor at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. His daughter, Ruth Garcia Novoseletsky, is an IU graduate, and another daughter, Rebecca, is a student in The Media School.

His grandfather, Henry Sherman Adams, was a Monroe County farmer and stonecutter who helped lay the foundation of Franklin Hall, future home of The Media School. Banks has maintained his connection with the university through frequent visits to campus.

"Jonathan Banks is one of Hollywood's hardest-working and most talented actors, whose dedication to his craft spans numerous memorable roles on the stage and screen," said IU President Michael A. McRobbie. "His was not an overnight success story, however. He has spent the better part of five decades perfecting his skill as an actor and amassing a deep portfolio of work that has earned him the highest respect and admiration of his acting peers and critics who today describe him as one of America's foremost supporting actors.
"Jonathan's acting ability is matched by an unwavering commitment to community and to inspiring young people through his messages of hard work, kindness and personal responsibility," McRobbie added. "In recent years, he has graciously carved time from his busy schedule to share his knowledge and experiences with hundreds of Indiana University students, some of whom will aspire to follow in his footsteps. Indeed, he has become a great friend to IU and role model for our students, and we are very pleased to bestow upon him this honorary degree."

The invitation-only Honors Convocation will take place at 2 p.m. April 10 in the IU Auditorium.

Banks grew up in Washington, D.C., but returned to his mother's home state in the late 1960s to study theater. He appeared in "Threepenny Opera" with Academy Award winner Kevin Kline, BA'70, and performed at the Brown County Playhouse. Before he could graduate, however, obligations to his young family compelled him to leave IU and embark on a career.

Banks' first job was as the stage manager of "Hair." In 1974, he moved to Los Angeles and worked his way up from smaller TV acting roles to in-demand movie and television star. His film credits include "Airplane!," "48 Hours" and "Beverly Hills Cop." In time, his work gained broad acclaim.

In addition to his Emmy nominations, Banks won the 2013 Saturn Award for best supporting actor on TV for "Breaking Bad," which also earned him Screen Actors Guild Award and Online Film and Television Association nominations; and he won the 2015 Critics' Choice TV Award for best supporting actor in a drama series for "Better Call Saul."

"For many years, Banks had the sort of recognition that many character actors seek of being 'that guy' that you recognize from the movies, but without the name recognition," Media School Dean James Shanahan said in a letter nominating Banks for the honorary degree. "Now, though, he has the full name recognition as well."

Shanahan said Banks has always been willing to help The Media School and has a special affinity for counseling young people. He has made several appearances on campus to teach classes, host lectures, and meet with students and alumni.

Jonathan Michaelsen, chair of the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance, said that despite being at the top of his profession, Banks works to improve and grow in every role.

"I cannot think of a better example for our students to emulate," Michaelsen said.

Others who supported Banks' recommendation for the honorary doctorate noted his kindness and concern for people from every walk of life.

Jon Vickers, director of the IU Cinema, noted that during a sold-out onstage interview at the cinema in 2014, Banks went outside and met everyone who was waiting in line without tickets.

"Mr. Banks clearly enjoys giving back to the community and inspiring young people," he said.

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George Vlahakis

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