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Next U. of I. president eager to get going, may start job early

The next president of the University of Illinois says he is negotiating to start his new job this spring, a few months earlier than his official July 1 start date.

That’s how much Timothy L. Killeen wants to get going on what is admittedly the most ambitious transition of his career.

At the least, Killeen, slated to become the 20th president of the University of Illinois, wants to work as an understudy to current university President Robert Easter. Killeen couldn’t give an exact date for his move, since he is still fulfilling his duties at State University of New York, but said he hopes to start work in “late spring.”

“I’ll be a regular presence on [the University of Illinois] campuses, and the start date might move forward,” said Killeen, now the vice chancellor for research and president of the Research Foundation of SUNY.

Killeen, in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, said he will discuss the transition date with University of Illinois trustees and Easter.

“Dr. Easter and I may overlap for a while — I in a junior role and he in his presidential role,” Killeen said.

Timothy L Killeen, slated to become the University of Illinois’ 20th president next year,  speaks at the University of Illinois at Chicago in November. | Al Podgorski/Sun-Times Media
Timothy L Killeen, slated to become the University of Illinois’ 20th president next year, speaks at the University of Illinois at Chicago in November. | Al Podgorski/Sun-Times Media

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees must give Killeen’s hire final approval at its next regular meeting on Jan. 15.

Killeen said he will start consulting this week with an advisory group of students and faculty who will provide insight into pressing issues at the University of Illinois. It will be a small group — fewer than 10, he said.

“I am very anxious to get the faculty voice and advice that any new, incoming president would want to get — an understanding of all the issues they care deeply about,” Killeen said, noting he doesn’t feel as though he is starting from scratch because he has long admired the University of Illinois.

Asked about the need to restore trust and morale among the faculty, who have been roiled by controversial hiring and firing decisions, most notably the board of trustees’ decision to rescind a job offer to professor Steven Salaita after he tweeted anti-Israel diatribes, Killeen said he believes in setting a tone and defining a culture that can motivate people.

“I’m not going to assume anything is broken,” he said. “I believe people are motivated, strive for excellence and are strongly vested in an empowering, positive image.”

He said he intends to develop a “shared vision” in which faculty, students and other constituents “have ownership.”

Killeen also indicated he intends to emphasize, as he has in New York, efforts to patent and market the university researchers’ innovations.

“It’s a virtuous cycle – a strong research emphasis, and the opportunity to take some of that new knowledge and do technology transfer, and to create new spinoff companies,” he said.