Next UI president: Timothy Killeen

Next UI president: Timothy Killeen

URBANA — A leading Welsh researcher in geophysics and space science has been named the 20th president of the University of Illinois.

Timothy Killeen, vice chancellor for research and president of the Research Foundation of the State University of New York, will replace longtime UI administrator Bob Easter.

A start date has not been determined.

Killeen will receive a base salary of $600,000 a year and up to $100,000 annually in performance incentives, UI spokesman Tom Hardy said today. He will also be eligible for retention payments that he will receive at the end of five years, starting at $30,000 annually and increasing by $7,500 a year, Hardy said.

 The salary package puts Killeen seventh in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Northwestern, Rutgers and Indiana, he said. Easter is currently ninth.

Killeen, 62, joined UI officials today for the official announcement at the three campuses and to meet with future colleagues, faculty, students and constituents. The kickoff was at 8:30 a.m. in Chicago, followed by noon on the Springfield campus and 3 p.m. in the South Lounge of the Illini Union in Urbana.

“It’s super exciting. I’m thrilled,” said UI Board Chair Chris Kennedy on the eve of the announcement.

The decision to hire Killeen was a unanimous one, he said. Formal approval is expected to occur at the board’s meeting Jan. 15 in Chicago.

Easter will retire from the office on June 30, 2015, after three years as president and 42 years as a student, animal sciences professor and administrator at the UI. He plans to continue his research in swine nutrition at the university.

A native of Wales and a U.S. citizen, Killeen has been a SUNY administrator since 2012. He oversees the Research Foundation, the $900 million annual research portfolio for the system’s 29 campuses.

“I will devote myself to this noble enterprise with every ounce of my energy,” Killeen said in a release.

“Firing on all cylinders, and with distinguished leadership and fabulous faculty in place, the University of Illinois will continue to broaden opportunity; educate, enrich, and empower our students; discover, create, and disseminate the new knowledge needed for our common future; and drive economic development through innovation — all with a commitment to scholarship and excellence and in service to the public good.”

A prolific academic, Killeen earned his Ph.D. in atomic and molecular physics from University College London at 23 years old. He’s written more than 150 publications in peer-reviewed journals, plus 300 other publications and papers. 

Throughout his career, he has moved through academic and Washington circles, serving on White House committees and testifying to Congress. Prior to his position at SUNY, he was an assistant director for geosciences at the National Science Foundation, managing an $800 million research portfolio.

“Academic research institutions are the greatest renewable economic resource this country has ever had, and we are thrilled to have one of the greatest living researchers in America to lead the university,” Kennedy said in a release.

Active in the field of global climate change, Killeen led development of a 10-year strategic plan for the U.S. Global Change Research Program and established new initiatives on sustainability. He co-founded the Belmont Forum, which brings together representatives from government funding agencies worldwide to collaborate on global climate environmental change research.

Killeen was the Lyall Research Professor at the University of Colorado and director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research from 2000 to 2008. He also spent more than 20 years at the University of Michigan as a researcher and professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, and an associate vice president for research.

Killeen is married with three children. His wife, Roberta Johnson, has a Ph.D. in Geophysics and Space Physics from the University of California at Los Angeles and is executive director of the National Earth Science Teachers Association and clinical professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at SUNY-Albany.

Killeen’s selection is the culmination of eight months’ work by a search committee of trustees, faculty, staff and students, and a hired search firm.

The board of trustees appointed a 19-member search committee last winter, led by co-chairs Pamela Strobel, a UI trustee, and Douglas Beck, a physics professor at the Urbana campus. The board indicated an announcement would come before Thanksgiving. A weeklong break begins Saturday.

UI trustees interviewed three finalists Nov. 11 and met for more than five hours in closed sessions Thursday to review their choices.

Killeen will take the helm of a university facing several challenges. Just last week, trustees were warned of significant budget cuts if the state legislature does not extend the income tax hike. Other concerns include uncertainty about federal research funding, ongoing litigation about the state’s pension reforms, the ability to recruit top faculty and students, and college affordability.

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illinikjw wrote on November 19, 2014 at 9:11 am

Ah yes, because what we need in higher education is more old, straight, rich white guys. Good choice, BoT!

Rocky7 wrote on November 20, 2014 at 1:11 am

The pool of nationally-available "minority" educators to head a Univeristy like the UofI is still very small. I actually nominated a minority woman for the position knowing she was well set and extremely happy where she is. And that's the second problem.  For many people, the incentive to move may not be there.

As for Dr. Killeen, I wish him well.  He is taking on the toughest job he ever had.  However, the hidden asset of a British accent will pave the way to success with self-concious middle westerners!

BruckJr wrote on November 19, 2014 at 5:11 pm

How long until the Mrs. is on the payroll?

Rocky7 wrote on November 19, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Likely, soon.  It is now customary in academe to hire spousal career people.  Two-career couples are now commonplace in academe and to attract a faculty member with such a spouse, a career opportunity needs to be made available for them to close the deal. Same with administrators. At campuses with location disadvantage lacking surrounding opportunities, it is a necessity.. Champaign-Urbana fits that description.

Sancho Panza wrote on November 19, 2014 at 8:11 pm

About 1 in 13,000 people in the US fulfill your preferred demographic (disclaimer: I am not accounting for the strong correlation between these terms: poor (16%), non-white (22%) lesbian (0.9%) millennials (25%)).  


Lostinspace wrote on November 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm

I wish him well.  To choose someone in science/tehnology makes sense.  It is pretty clear what he has to do to restore confidence and raise morale in all sectors of the university.  Business as usual is not an option.  Neither is more vague rhetoric.  Tough job.  The first couple of months in his administration should tell the story.

journaljim wrote on November 20, 2014 at 11:11 am
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I'm a little surprised (okay, maybe not) that the NG didn't pick up on Dr. Killeen being brought to the SUNY RF to clean up a damaged program.

Sounds like kind of a Winston Wolfe role for any Pulp Fiction fans. It appears he was fairly successful at restoring donor and state confidence there. He should have plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his damage control skills here, too. 

sweet caroline wrote on November 20, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Journajim, is that a drawing of a foil-wrapped candy bar or a bar of gold?  I'm hungry and could really go for a candy bar.