New U of I leader brings skills in research, innovation


“I want to dedicate my presidency to you students,” says Timothy Killeen, the board of trustee’s selection for university president. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services


Speaking to Chicago media Wednesday, Timothy Killeen listed some of the skills he will bring to his new job as president of the University of Illinois: research, high-performance computing, information technology and education innovation.

Then he listed some of his goals.

“I will listen, I will communicate, I will engage, I will try to create a shared vision for the University of Illinois, and we’ll get it done together,” Killeen said.

Killeen, 62, is president of the Research Foundation of the State University of New York, a separate but affiliated foundation that oversees about $900 million in annual funding across SUNY’s 29 state-supported research campuses. He is SUNY’s vice chancellor for research and chairs its patent and inventions policy board.

His appointment as the 20th U of I president must be formally approved by the university Board of Trustees at its Jan. 15 meeting in Chicago. President Robert Easter retires June 30; university officials say Killeen’s official start date has not been set, but there will be a transition period.

Killen’s five-year contract, $600,000 per year plus an annual performance bonus of up to $100,000, would make his compensation seventh among peer institutions.

After an eight-month search that winnowed 200 candidates down to three finalists, Killeen was the board’s unanimous choice, said chair Christopher Kennedy.

Timothy Killeen

“I now see my various past career steps as simply being steps toward and circling the University of Illinois,” Killeen says. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

“We wanted a leader who would garner the respect of the faculty by the sheer force of their own academic record. We wanted a researcher who would have the credibility with the national funders, who could help attract additional economic resources to our state. We wanted someone who believed in our land-grant mission, rooted in educating the people of our state while engaging the industries that keep our communities vibrant,” Kennedy said before introducing Killeen.


Paths crossed with chancellor at Michigan

Killeen spent more than 20 years on the faculty at Michigan, where he began as a postdoctoral scholar and left as associate vice president for research and professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences.

“Tim and I were colleagues at the University of Michigan, where I knew him to be both deeply principled and driven in the pursuit of excellence,” said Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares. “He is the perfect choice to lead the university, especially during a challenging time for higher education. As he noted in his remarks, ‘the Tour de France is won on the uphill legs.’ I know he is up to the challenge.”

Killeen joined SUNY in 2012 after four years as assistant director of geosciences for the National Science Foundation and eight years as director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, one of the world’s premier atmospheric research centers.

“In retrospect, I now see my various past career steps as simply being steps toward and circling the University of Illinois,” Killeen said.

The focus of his job as president of the University of Illinois, he said, will be the students.

“I want to dedicate my presidency to you students, those now present on the three wonderful campuses, and those to come,” he said, turning to the students sitting behind him onstage at Student Center East.

Killeen stressed the importance of “human capital,” which he defined as “well-educated people connected with opportunities, with skills that include flair, discernment and critical thinking.”

He emphasized his support for shared governance and collaboration, adding, “collegiality and respectful listening are critical to good decision making.

Killeen, who was named to the SUNY research foundation after its previous head was implicated in a political hiring, twice mentioned the need for “excellence and integrity, painted through everything we do.”

“I believe that the University of Illinois can define and exemplify what public higher education must become in this century. It can be the best. Not by simple ratings, but by meaningful and substantive contributions,” he said.

“We should act like the heavyweights we are, engaging, shaping and leading agendas with academia, foundations, industry, governmental and international partners.”

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