University of Illinois names Timothy L. Killeen as its new president

SHARE University of Illinois names Timothy L. Killeen as its new president

Physicist, researcher and university administrator Timothy L. Killeen, introduced Wednesday as the new president of the University of Illinois, sees public universities playing a unique role in developing students for a knowledge economy.

Because public universities have what Killeen called a “tremendous breadth and depth of expertise” as well as direct connections to the public, they “are going to be the Petri dishes where society’s solutions are going to flow from,” he said.

Killeen, 62, hammered home his goal that big institutions with integrity and high standards, though challenged by funding cuts, internal disputes and intense competition, can aim to be courageous — to “create prosperous human welfare in the future.”

Killeen, vice chancellor for research and president of the Research Foundation of the State University of New York, becomes the university’s 20th president, succeeding Robert Easter, 65, who will retire when his contract expires July 1, 2015. The Board of Trustees must give a final approval at its next regular meeting on Jan. 15.

A 19-member search committee settled on Killeen, who has more than three decades of experience as a teacher, researcher and administrator in public higher education and in top leadership positions with national scientific research agencies.

Several candidates turned down an opportunity to vie for the job, although the selection of three finalists among 200 initial resumes proved no difficulty, said university trustee and search committee member James D. Montgomery, a longtime Chicago lawyer.

“Many folks we went after were happy where they were, and there were many who were sort of at the point where they thought [their current position] would be their last position,” Montgomery said, calling the situation “pretty typical” of such a widespread search. Montgomery could not give an exact number of people who turned down the opportunity to be considered and interviewed.

The search committee obtained names of potential candidates from faculty, scholars, public meetings, a hired search firm and the trustees, he said.

The search committee sent three finalists’ names to the board of trustees without ranking them in order, Montgomery said.

Montgomery said he thinks Killeen is “academically overqualified” for the university president’s job, because of his extensive experience, and will need to learn about the university’s “shared governance” system with faculty having a voice in making decisions.

But Montgomery said Killeen was “probably” the best choice of the three finalists.

“We had some very highly qualified people” as the finalists, Montgomery said, declining to name any other candidates.

At SUNY’s Research Foundation, Killeen was responsible for administering about $900 million annually across a statewide network of 29 state-supported research campuses.

Killeen, a researcher in geophysics and space sciences, grew up in Wales — which, he pointed out, “is not part of England” — in an Irish Roman Catholic family of five.

His mother, a medical doctor, was the second woman to be “qualified” to practice medicine in Wales — an accomplishment he learned of only after his mother had died but of which he said he is proud. His father was in business and a lecturer at the University of Birmingham.

Killeen said he wasn’t an ideal student.

“I didn’t ask too many questions,” he said, noting that he wants a far different experience for the students at the University of Illinois.

“I want them not to be passive receivers of information, but active, dynamic” participants in their education, he told reporters after his prepared remarks.

Indeed, in his acceptance speech Wednesday at the university’s student center, 750 S. Halsted St., Kelleen said: “It’s all about the students.

“It’s all done by the faculty and staff. It’s the human capital, the people, that count,” he said, vowing to visit classrooms to “see what’s on students’ minds.”

He described himself as a “genetic optimist” and counted as his top priorities ensuring diversity, economic development, serving the public good and meeting the next decade’s human-capital challenges.

He will be expected to step up fundraising efforts and upgrade the university’s reputation after past favoritism scandals and controversial hiring and firing decisions.

His deep background in technology — including acting as lead scientist for a satellite experiment whose telescopes orbit Chicago and Urbana to view the earth’s upper atmosphere — is expected to help boost research funding and strengthen partnerships, including those at UILabs, a digital manufacturing technology hub on Goose Island.

At the University of Illinois, Killeen will oversee three campuses — in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign — and the university’s hospital and health sciences department. The university has 78,000 students, 6,000 faculty members and a $5.6 billion operating budget.

The new president will face a host of challenges, including:

– An ongoing loss of state funding, pressuring the school to raise tuition and grapple with fallout from the state’s budget and pension woes. The university is bracing for a $70 million cut in yearly state funding if the Legislature allows the temporary income tax increase to expire.

– The hiring of a new chancellor at the Chicago campus; current Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares’ contract expires in January.

– A union-organizing effort by faculty at the Springfield campus.

– A proposal to build a second, independent and engineering-based college of medicine at the flagship Urbana-Champaign campus, upsetting colleagues at the Chicago campus who now control the university’s sole medical school and medical education.

– At the same time, consultants have recommended that UIC reorganize its hospital, health sciences colleges and health care services to deal with aging clinics, fierce marketplace competition, federal healthcare reforms and fuzzy lines of authority.

– Controversial hiring and firing decisions that have rankled and divided faculty, most notably the board of trustees’ decision to rescind a job offer to professor Steven Salaita after he tweeted anti-Israel diatribes, and, last week, allowing leaders at the three campuses to decide whether to hire adjunct professor and 1970s-era Symbionese Liberation Army radical James Kilgore, whose contract initially was not renewed.

– A reconfigured Board of Trustees. Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner will select three new members to replace three whose terms expire on Jan. 19, including Chairman Christopher Kennedy. The board has nine members.

– A fierce competition to become the site of President Barack Obama’s presidential library and museum.

Killeen has signed a five-year contract, with a base salary of $600,000; a performance bonus of up to $100,000; and, at the end of the five years, a total $225,000 retention bonus, putting him at No. 7 in total compensation among Big 10 schools, university spokesman Tom Hardy said.

The top six salary earners, in order, are the presidents of Ohio State, Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan, Rutgers and Indiana.

Easter had a base salary of $478,558 and a total yearly $552,375 compensation. It was lower than Killeen’s because Easter came out of retirement to fill the post and agreed to take the same salary as previous presidents Stanley Ikenberry and B. Joseph White, university spokesman Tom Hardy has said previously.

On top of his salary, Easter receives a merit-based pay raise. He got a 3.5 percent merit-based increase in September.

The university also provides its president with a car and driver; a home on the Urbana-Champaign campus and access to a fundraising foundation-owned condo on Michigan Avenue.

As for Killeen’s reputation at SUNY, colleague David Doyle described him as “a good guy” who proved to be a “calming, steady hand” when he took over the SUNY Research Foundation in May 2012 after a no-show-job scandal led to the former president’s resignation.

Killeen did “a tremendous job” reforming and rebuilding the Research Foundation, which manages $1 billion a year in research projects across the SUNY system, said Doyle, assistant vice chancellor for communications at SUNY.

Killeen also increased the university’s efforts to patent and market its researchers’ innovations, Doyle said, describing the result as ”scientific-entrepreneurial economic development” aimed at improving people’s lives, creating jobs and attracting investment for future innovations.

Before joining SUNY, Killeen served for four years as assistant director for the geosciences at the National Science Foundation.

He also has served as Lyall Research Professor at the University of Colorado; as director and senior scientist for the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and he spent more than 20 years as a faculty member and researcher at the University of Michigan, where he also served as associate vice president for research.

He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2007, and also is a member and past president of the American Geophysical Union, and a member of the American Meteorological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Killeen received his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. at University College London, where he earned his doctoral degree in atomic and molecular physics at 23.

His research has earned three achievement awards from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and he has received awards for teaching and research excellence from the University of

Michigan College of Engineering. He has authored more than 150 publications in peer-reviewed

journals, along with more than 300 other publications and papers.

Killeen’s wife, Roberta M. Johnson, is executive director of the National Earth Science Teachers

Association and a clinical professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at

the State University of New York at Albany. They have three children.

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