City Club of Chicago: Timothy Killeen, President of the University of Illinois System

City Club of Chicago

Timothy Killeen, President of the University of Illinois System, during a virtual session of the City Club of Chicago, December 9, 2020 (City Club of Chicago)

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December 9, 2020

Timothy Killeen – President – University of Illinois System

President Timothy Killeen

Timothy L. Killeen is the 20th president of the University of Illinois System, with universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. He took office in May 2015, and received a new contract in 2020 that will extend his term through June 2024.

Since taking office, Killeen has helped lead a surge of growth across the state’s flagship university system. Enrollment is at record highs, including increases among in-state and underrepresented students. Student costs have been held in check by affordability initiatives that included a five-year tuition freeze for Illinois students and substantial increases in institutional financial aid. Retention and graduation rates top national norms, while student debt rates are lower. A unique hiring initiative will add up to 45 renowned professors to the system’s already world-class faculty ranks, and another seeks to add nearly 500 new tenure-system faculty. A capital program will build or upgrade nearly 350 facilities over the next decade to ensure classroom and research space matches the system’s academic excellence, and the system’s largest fundraising campaign ever is ahead of pace toward its $3.1 billion goal.

A leading researcher in geophysics and space sciences, Killeen has also championed efforts to expand the research discovery that drives progress and job creation. That includes helping lead creation of two pioneering new initiatives to drive innovation and workforce development – the Discovery Partners Institute, a world-class research center in downtown Chicago, and the Illinois Innovation Network, a system of satellite research hubs that will help spread its impact across the state. He also reaffirmed the system’s commitment to the arts and humanities, launching a program that pumped nearly $2 million into faculty initiatives that underscore their importance to a well-rounded education.

The ongoing growth is rooted in a Strategic Framework that Killeen helped develop in the first months of his presidency to guide the U of I System for the next decade. The roadmap set high-aspiration goals to make the U of I System a model for higher education in the 21st century, and build on its more than 150-year legacy of service to students, innovation and the public good.
When he joined the U of I System, Killeen brought more than three decades of experience as an educator, researcher and administrator in public higher education and in leadership positions with national scientific research agencies.

Earlier, he served as vice chancellor for research and president of the Research Foundation at the State University of New York (SUNY), one of the nation’s largest higher education systems. He also served as assistant director for the geosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), as the Lyall Research Professor at the University of Colorado, as director and senior scientist for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and 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 is a member and past president of the American Geophysical Union, and a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and the American
Association for the Advancement of Science. He has authored more than 150 publications in peer-reviewed journals, along with more than 300 other publications and papers.

A native of Wales and a U.S. citizen, Killeen received his bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy at University College London, where he also earned his doctoral degree in atomic and molecular physics and was later awarded an honorary doctorate degree.

The Killeens have three children.

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