Incoming University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen addresses the Urbana campus at the Illini Union on Wednesday as outgoing President Bob Easter looks on.

Hannah Meisel/WILL

November 20, 2014

Who’s Tim Killeen? Meet U of I’s 20th President

Incoming University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen addresses the Urbana campus at the Illini UnionThe University of Illinois will have a new president come July after an eight month search and years of short-term leadership. The search committee picked State University of New York's Timothy Killeen for his success in research, and his experience dealing with tough fiscal situations.

Killeen's whirlwind day Wednesday began with an early morning introduction on the Chicago campus, slowed briefly at a lunchtime address on the Springfield campus and ended late in the afternoon in Urbana where the 20th U of I president surveyed his new home.

That home will be in a state facing serious financial problems, and Killeen knows he’s entering his presidency at a time of fiscal uncertainty at U of I.

But for now, Killeen didn't want to focus on the University's tough fiscal future.

"That question is a little premature for me," Killeen said regarding how much cost he'd be willing to let the University absorb. " I'm new, I'm excited, I'm coming in and I'm going to do my homework. (I'll tell students to do their homework too.) I'm a quick study so I'll get up all the learning curve that's needed to address those kind of issues."

For the last 2.5 years, Killeen has been the head of the Research Foundation at SUNY. Prior to that, the Wales native and three-time NASA award winner spent time at the National Science Foundation, the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Michigan.

That's where Killeen met B. Joseph White, who went on to become U of I's 16th president, and now Killeen's predecessor.

White says Killeen's enthusiasm was palpable, especially for research that was a little ahead of its time.

"I remember Tim was a guy who was passionate," White said. "Even then, he was passionate about atmospheric science, he didn't feel we were doing enough institutionally at the University of Michigan about it ... passion in a leader is a really good thing."

That passion is what members of the presidential search committee say they were looking for. 

U of I trustee Pam Strobel co-chaired the committee.  

“We were looking for someone who could become the chief advocate for public higher education in the state and on a national and global level and we found that in Tim Killeen,” she said.

Strobel says though the committee ended up picking a white male, diversity was also a priority for the search team.

"We did our utmost to make sure that we had diverse candidates to consider," she said. "In the end, we thought that Tim Killeen would make the best president for the University of Illinois. But it was never without a recognition of ... yes, indeed, this is a white male."

According to the American Council on Education, roughly 87% of college and university presidents are white, as of 2011. A number that's fallen only 3% since 1990. Killeen will be the U of I’s 20th president, and the 20th white male to hold the position.  He says he'll embrace all the initiatives U of I has committed to, including increasing the level of diversity on campus. But some researchers who study diversity in higher education, including James Moore, say diversity must start at the very top.

Moore serves as Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at The Ohio State University and says the only thing standing in the way of increased diversity among university presidents is the will to change.  Too often, he says, search committees hide behind the concept of picking the most qualified applicant.

“I don’t think it’s good enough because 'qualified' is one of those very elusive terms," he said. "How are we defining 'qualified?' To me, the most qualified is the totality of all those things, not just one or two variables."

Moore says the University of Illinois, with a diverse group of chancellors and provosts, is among the more progressive systems. The University has struggled in recent years, though, with attracting and keeping minority students, especially from lower-income backgrounds.

Many of those students depend on federal or state aid, which have been cut in recent years. As the state also cuts direct funding to the University, the Board of Trustees has voted to raise tuition in recent years.

Despite the many challenges, Killeen sees opportunities.  He says he "loves" the public university mission, and will be on his own mission to highlight the U of I at every turn.

"What I would like to bring is to really embellish the narrative, the exciting value proposition of what the University of Illinois is and brings to the state and does for the state and for the population and for economic welfare," he said.

Former president White says he’s confident Killeen will succeed in the job, but hinted at the scope of the challenges he faces.

"Well, let me be blunt. Illinois is not for the faint of heart," he said. "By which I mean the state of Illinois. This is really the big leagues when it comes to politics, economics and so on."

Though he's subject to Board of Trustees approval, Killleen’s training starts after the holidays. His first day in the big leagues is set for July 1st.

November 19, 2014

Obama Expected To Unveil Immigration Plan On Thursday

President Obama is expected to unveil executive actions on immigration on Thursday and will address the issue in a speech at a Las Vegas high school on Friday, a source familiar with the process tells NPR.

Timothy L. Killeen

November 19, 2014

U of I Names Timothy Killeen Next President

The University of Illinois system has hired State University of New York Vice Chancellor for Research Timothy L. Killeen as its next president.

The university announced Wednesday that the 62-year-old Killeen will become president when current President Robert Easter retires in June.

The 67-year-old Easter became president in 2012 during a period of turmoil.

At a meeting Wednesday morning in Chicago, U of I Board of Trustees Chair Chris Kennedy called Easter a "tough act to follow."

Both of his predecessors, Michael Hogan and B. Joseph White, resigned under pressure. Easter is credited by many with overseeing a relatively calm period.

But Killeen faces uncertainties over dwindling state support for the three university campuses and rising tuition.

Killeen previously was a University of Michigan faculty member and administrator and worked at the National Science Foundation. His research focused on geophysics and space sciences. He's received three awards from NASA.

Kennedy says Killeen's academic history "mirrors the mission of the University of Illinois" and called him "one of the great living researchers" in the world.

Killeen will earn a $600,000 base salary, plus a $100,000 performance bonus. He was picked among six candidates the Board interviewed, out of an even larger pool of 200. The search began earlier this year and lasted eight months. 

Killeen said this appointment to U of I president will be his last job and says he wants to dedicate his presidency to the students of the University of Illinois. Killeen referred to himself as a "genetic optimist" ... not a field of science, but a nod to his positivity, he said.

The co-chair of the committee that sought out the U of I’s next president says it was important to hire someone whose skill set includes areas outside of education.

U of I Trustee Pamela Strobel said the committee believes Timothy Killeen was the best candidate to address financial challenges in Illinois, and build on his research experience at the State University of New York:

“And where innovation, experiments, new technologies are developed, and in turn, that contributes to the better health and economy of the state of Illinois," she said.  "And so we wanted someone who lives and breathes those notions.”

In New York, Killeen launched an initiative to lure in start-up technology companies.  Strobel said he can bring those talents to the U of I, particularly dealing with the UI Labs and digital labs projects.

A house is obscured by lake effect snow Tuesday.

Carolyn Thompson/AP

November 19, 2014

Historic Snowstorm Buries Western New York, Kills 5

Driven by the Lake Effect, a massive snowstorm dumped up to 60 inches of snow on some parts of western New York, killing at least five and paralyzing an area used to huge snow totals.

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