New chancellor for University of Illinois' flagship campus

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Posted: Jul 19, 2016 4:36 PM
New chancellor for University of Illinois' flagship campus

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The University of Illinois has hired a top administrator from a State University of New York campus who has a background in agricultural research to be the new chancellor at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

State University of New York at Albany President Robert J. Jones was named chancellor on Tuesday, pending formal approval by the University of Illinois board of trustees on Thursday. He will take over the university's flagship campus after a period of turmoil that saw the last permanent chancellor resign under pressure and alleged mistreatment of players by a football coach.

Jones took over at Albany-SUNY after a period of turnover and low morale, which faculty leaders there say he handled well.

Jones is the first black chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus and called his new role his "dream job."

"I have the land-grant mission in my blood. I am a product of it. It is what brought me into higher education, from a sharecropping family in Georgia," the 65-year-old said in the release.

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen, who came to the university from SUNY and says he knew Jones well, praised his work since taking over at Albany-SUNY in 2013 in developing the campus and linking it to the community around it.

"It comes down to, Robert checks so many of the boxes," Killeen said in an interview. "His background in academia, in the Big Ten, agronomy. ... His leadership building out a research university in Albany."

Jones, who spent 34 years at the University of Minnesota, will be paid $649,000 a year but with no package of potential bonuses, according to university spokesman Tom Hardy. The last permanent chancellor, Phyllis Wise, was paid $550,000 plus a $100,000 retention bonus that she eventually agreed not to take after her resignation.

Jones will lead a campus with about 46,000 students, 11,400 employees and an annual operating budget of $2 billion. He also will be the vice president of the University of Illinois system, which also includes campuses in Chicago and Springfield and a total of more than 80,000 students.

Jones earned a bachelor's degree in agronomy from Fort Valley State College, a master's degree in crop physiology from the University of Georgia and a doctorate in crop physiology from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

At SUNY, faculty leaders said Tuesday that they are sad to see Jones go, praising him as an effective, approachable leader who kept his word while taking over in a difficult period.

"We had budget cuts. We lost several programs in the humanities," and had turnover among key campus administrators, said Cynthia Fox, an associate professor of French studies and chair of the university Senate.

She cited the start of a new College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and other initiatives.

"People, I think, have felt there's a sense of mission, and we've come out of a period that was really rather disheartening for a lot of us," Fox said.

At the University of Illinois, Jones will take over for interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, who held the job since Wise resigned in August amid a series of problems on campus. Those difficulties included the revelation that Wise had used private emails to discuss university business in an effort to prevent publicly revealing it.

They also included allegations of mistreatment of football players by coach Tim Beckman, who was fired weeks after Wise's resignation. Athletic director Mike Thomas was later fired by Wilson amid those problems and others.

University of Illinois trustee James Montgomery said he plans to vote to approve the hiring of Jones, whom he called a charismatic leader and "a pretty distinguished scholar in the ag field."

Montgomery, who is a University of Illinois graduate and also black, has long suggested the school's leadership needed to better reflect Illinois' diverse population. Hiring Jones is a plus in that regard, he said.

"It's been slow and difficult, but I think we're heading in the right direction," Montgomery said.