The College of Arts and Sciences is recognizing William C. Banks, John F. Else, Jay D. Keasling, and Jere D. McGaffey with Distinguished Alumni awards. They will be honored at the college's Celebration of Excellence on May 12.
The award was launched in 2022 to honor the remarkable accomplishments and service of our alumni who have demonstrated lifetime career achievement or excellence in their field and community.
William C. Banks
Banks ('71, political science) has been a Professor of Law at Syracuse University and a Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs at the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs for decades. He earned his J.D. and M.S. in law and society at the University of Denver. He is an internationally recognized expert in law related to national security, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and the U.S. Constitution. He was the founding director of the Syracuse University Institute for National Security and Counter Terrorism (now the Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law). In 1994, then Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, chose him to serve as special counsel during the nomination hearings for Stephen Breyer.
Banks has authored and co-authored a number of textbooks that are used by law schools and colleges throughout the country and numerous law review articles. He was honored as Syracuse University Law Professor of the Year more than once and has served as a consultant in the drafting of new constitutions in third world countries. He is currently the chair of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security.
Banks was nominated by alumnus George Hinman.
John F. Else
Else ('61, philosophy and Greek) has served in a variety of roles that have advanced social justice. During his time at Nebraska, he was elected to co-chair the university's international student organization, which was started due to a column he wrote for the Daily Nebraskan, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. While attending Yale Divinity School, he was among students who traveled to Mississippi to help Marian Wright's Council of Federated Organizations improve safety for Black people during elections. He continued to work with organizations in Black communities after graduating.
He moved to Omaha in 1966 and supervised the work of five neighborhood centers with the Greater Omaha Community Action. Two years later, at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, he helped earn funding for undergraduate social work education and was a key player in the development of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service. He earned his M.A. in sociology in 1970 from UNO and a Ph.D. in policy, planning, and administration from Brandeis University in 1977. In 1985, Else trained leaders in the National Association of NGOs in Zimbabwe and then founded and was president of the Institute for Social and Economic Development (ISED), a non-profit that provides small enterprise development skills and financing for low-income Iowans. ISED obtained funding to provide technical assistance to refugee agencies across the country. In 1999, after moving to Delaware, he was asked to continue serving as coordinator of the consulting and research divisions of ISED, which received a Presidential Award that same year. He became president of the subsidiary corporation that the divisions later developed into.
After retiring in 2005, he moved to Omaha in 2018 and became a volunteer fundraising and organizational consultant for the New Life Family Alliance (NLFA), a recently organized South Sudanese agency in Omaha (which has the largest South Sudanese population in the US). He raised funds to hire an executive director and a juvenile case manager and was elected to the board of directors and named secretary. He has strong relationships with government, non-profit, and university leaders and many professionals in the community.
Else was nominated by alumnus Keith Stevenson.
Jay D. Keasling
Keasling ('86, chemistry and biological sciences) is a scientist and engineer in the College of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Chief Executive Officer of the Joint BioEnergy Institute. He earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan. He heads the Keasling Laboratory, an interdisciplinary team that focuses on engineering the chemistry inside microbial cells to produce life-saving therapies, clean-burning fuels, and new materials for a variety of applications. They have created tools for regulating metabolic pathways inside cells, novel metabolic pathways to produce unnatural molecules, and robust microbial hosts for producing chemicals under a variety of industrial conditions. Those tools were used to produce the antimalarial drug artemisinin, a variety of commodity and specialty chemicals, and biofuels, which led to his being elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 2010.
Among his many other awards, he was named a Distinguished Scientists Fellow by the Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy, elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and named Scientist of the Year by Discover Magazine. His scientific work has earned more than 60,000 citations. He has also served in a variety of leadership roles in industrial settings.
Keasling was nominated by Jody Redepenning of the Department of Chemistry and Michael Herman of the School of Biological Sciences.
Jere D. McGaffey
McGaffey ('57, economics and business administration) is a retired partner at Foley & Lardner LLP and has worked to codify and improve tax laws across the nation throughout his career. He graduated at the top of his class with high distinction from Nebraska and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He served as chair of the American Bar Association’s Section on Taxation and the American College of Tax Counsel and regent of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. McGaffey has been named one of The Best Lawyers in America and received the honor of Outstanding Tax Professional for the state of Wisconsin in 1989. He received the American Bar Association’s Section Taxation Distinguished Service Award in 2005 for his 8-volume work on corporate acquisitions, McGaffey Legal Forms with Tax Analysis.
While at Nebraska, he joined the Cornhusker Speech and Debate Team, to which he attributes his academic and professional success and his decision to pursue a career in law. Speech and debate activities are supported in perpetuity thanks to McGaffey’s contributions. The forensics program was able to hire an endowed faculty member for the Department of Communication Studies and offer financial support for team members and a host of non-travel-related expenses. He has been indispensable in coordinating endowment activities such as the Jere and Ruth McGaffey Fund for Debate, the Dr. Ann Burnett Scholarship for UNL Speech and Debate, and the Donald O. Olson Memorial Fund for Forensics.
McGaffey was nominated by Justin Kirk, a professor in the department and director of the debate team.