Robert J. Jones named chancellor at Urbana-Champaign
SUNY-Albany president, former senior VP at U of Minnesota
July 19, 2016
URBANA, ILL.—Robert J. Jones, president of the University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY), an experienced and accomplished scientist and research university leader, was named chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Tuesday, pending formal approval by the Board of Trustees at its July 21 meeting. He would take office on Oct. 3.
Jones has been at the helm of one of the SUNY system’s leading research universities since 2013. His tenure there followed a 34-year career at the University of Minnesota, a Big Ten land-grant institution where he began as a plant physiologist in the department of agronomy and plant genetics and rose through a series of academic administrative appointments, serving as senior vice president for academic administration at the University of Minnesota System from 2004 to 2013.
A Georgia native, Jones, 65, 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. He began his academic career as a faculty member at Minnesota and became an internationally respected authority on plant physiology. He is a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America.
In addition to chancellor of the Urbana university, Jones would serve as vice president of the University of Illinois System, which also has universities in Chicago and Springfield. Jones’ tenured faculty position would be in the Department of Crop Sciences, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Jones would be the first African-American scholar appointed as Urbana chancellor since the office was created in 1967. His full biography and curriculum vitae are online at http://go.uillinois.edu/2016Chancellor.
Jones said his first 100 days would be spent meeting and hearing from deans, faculty, students, administrative leadership, alumni, donors and the Champaign-Urbana community, as well as visiting university assets, including Extension offices and experiment stations.
Jones said he was drawn to the opportunity by the Urbana university’s reputation as “a world-class, premier institution” for academics, research and innovation, and by his 40-year embrace of the mission of land-grant universities and the academic strength of the Big Ten universities. “This is my dream job,” he said.
“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,” Jones said. Education empowered him to leave farming, study food production and crop science and embark on a public research university administrative career, he said.
“We need to find ways to make that story possible for everyone, no matter where they start, what their parents do or how fast the technological, economic and political changes come at us. And we need to find ways to be sure that story is one that isn’t limited to four or five years of life, but to the educational needs of a whole lifetime,” Jones added.
University of Illinois President Timothy L. Killeen said Jones brings “a significant body of relevant life and academic leadership experience to the chancellorship.”
“A distinguished scholar in the agricultural sciences, and a thoughtful and visionary leader in public higher education, with an exemplary record of accomplishment as a sitting university president for a research-intensive public university, he is simply ideally qualified to lead our institution into the future,” Killeen said of Jones.
Praise for Jones by SUNY system leaders was unconditional.
“President Jones has led the University at Albany with the highest level of distinction,” said SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall. “He has been a champion of increased access for students through one of SUNY’s strongest Educational Opportunity Programs; supported our continued commitment to economic impact and workforce development; and ensured a campus culture that prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion.”
SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said, “The University at Albany has flourished under President Jones’ leadership, carrying out a strategic plan that has increased access, completion and success for the University’s students while also lifting up the work and research of its talented faculty and staff.”
“President Jones’ commitment to university-community engagement serves as a model for all of public higher education. During his time with SUNY, he has broadened affiliations with schools and businesses throughout the Capital Region, expanded the University’s reach into downtown Albany and helped to convene The Albany Promise, a leading cradle-to-career network. We are grateful to President Jones for what promises to be a lasting impact on SUNY and wish him all the best in Illinois,” Zimpher said.
Killeen said more than 100 applications and nominations for the position were received, a strong indication of the high regard in which the Urbana university is held. He said the campus-based search advisory committee culled the list to about 30 candidates, researched and interviewed contenders, with assistance from executive search firm Greenwood/Asher & Associates, and then provided him with a short list of eight. After reviewing them, Killeen reduced the field to a final four—senior executive officers at research universities, diverse in gender, race, academic and administrative backgrounds.
On July 8-9, the four finalists were interviewed individually by Killeen, trustees and a contingent of Urbana university deans and directors, including College of Law Dean Vikram Amar, College of Business Dean Jeff Brown, School of Social Work Dean Wynne Korr, National Center for Supercomputing Applications Director Ed Seidel and Athletics Director Josh Whitman.
Killeen said all the finalists were highly qualified, and Jones was the strongest of that impressive group.
“The search process for the Urbana Chancellorship was conducted in a most thorough and professional manner and the caliber of the candidate pool was simply extraordinary – a wonderful testament to the world-class stature and drawing power of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, its faculty and student body, and its long track record of excellence,” Killeen said.
History Professor Antoinette Burton, chair of the advisory search committee, said the process was thorough and reinforced the Urbana university’s reputation for excellence.
“We received nominations from people in and outside the campus community. We spoke with dozens of prospective candidates before narrowing out list for stages of the interview process,” Burton said of the 13-member panel’s work. “We were impressed by the depth, talent and competitiveness of the pool. And we were edified by the feedback we got about what a great university Illinois is and what a fabulous opportunity the chancellor job is for a leader seeking to maximize Illinois’ many assets at this moment in history.”
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a land-grant institution and a member of the Big Ten, with almost 46,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 3,159 faculty and more than 11,400 total employees, an annual operating budget of $2 billion and a research portfolio of $468 million. It has 15 colleges and schools.
Since assuming the presidency at UAlbany, Jones launched the university’s largest and most strategic academic expansion in 50 years, including establishment of the nation’s first integrated College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity. He created the university’s first College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, nurtured a deep academic affiliation with historic Albany Law School, established the UAlbany’s first vice presidency for health sciences and biomedical initiatives, and has started the conversation about reinvigorating the arts and humanities. He established the University’s first compact budget planning process to align resources with strategic priorities.
UAlbany, located in New York’s state capital, enrolls 17,300 students on three campuses in 120 undergraduate and 125 master’s and doctoral degree programs. Chief among the academic initiatives Jones championed at UAlbany are a focus on growing the faculty, improving the undergraduate experience, developing a public engagement agenda, internationalization and expanded support for faculty research, scholarship and creative activities.
Externally, Jones has been a prolific fundraiser and a tireless proponent of the university as a driving partner in the economic development and revitalization in the Capital Region of upstate New York. Among other contributions, he served on the boards of the Albany Medical College and the renowned Saratoga Performing Arts Center, co-chaired the Capital Region Economic Development Council, and lent his leadership experience to The Albany Promise, a cradle-to-career community partnership to close the academic achievement gap in Albany. Nationally, he serves on the Board of Directors for the Campus Compact, a national higher education association committed to the public purposes of higher education and dedicated solely to advancing campus-based civic engagement.
As UAlbany president, Jones is a co-primary researcher on a $10 million NIH grant that establishes the school as the leading northeastern hub for programs designed to eliminate minority health disparities through research and education.
Throughout his distinguished career at the University of Minnesota System and on the Twin Cities campus, Jones held several progressively responsible positions at the Big Ten institution.
While senior VP for academic administration, Jones had administrative and budgetary responsibilities for public engagement initiatives central to the academic mission of the University including Minnesota’s Extension Service and the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Stations. He played a leadership role in establishing a new four-year campus in Rochester and established the University’s first urban research and outreach/engagement center designed to help address challenges in an economically depressed urban community. The center was recently named after Dr. Jones.
Among his responsibilities as VP and executive vice provost for the Twin Cities campus was management of the promotion and tenure process as well as review and approval to continuous appointments of all professional and academic probationary staff. He supported the work of the Dean’ Council and had administrative and budgetary oversight for a range of units including international programs, the Weisman Art Museum and the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.
He reorganized student affairs by integrating it with academic affairs and hired the first associate vice provost for student affairs.
In 2000, following a reorganization of the Office for Student Development where revenue-generating units were transferred to other areas, Jones initiated a strategic plan designed to improve the impact and coordination of student development, multicultural and undergraduate academic support programs.
As vice provost responsible for issues related to faculty development as well as academic and administrative policies, he established and chaired a committee that revised the faculty sabbatical leave and single-semester leave policies to be consistent with a conversion from quarters to semesters. He worked with deans to establish a $1.5 million sabbatical salary supplemental fund.
Throughout his career, Jones has worked on initiatives designed to recruit and retain faculty of color. As vice provost at Minnesota, he oversaw the Faculty of Color Bridge Fund that assisted colleges in hiring faculty of color. A postdoctoral fellowship programs that he initiated helped increase the number of individuals of color in the pipeline for tenure-track positions.
As assistant VP for academic affairs, he had programmatic and budgetary responsibility for recruitment and retention of faculty of color as well as a summer research experience program for students of color. He led a task force, initiated and managed an awards program for junior faculty, and established a forum and conference focusing on issues related to recruitment and retention of faculty of color.
As senior VP at Minnesota, Jones had operational oversight and budgetary authority for vice presidential-level units responsible for equity and diversity, multicultural excellence, diversity in graduate education, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and ally programs.
He created the University’s “urban agenda” that includes partnerships designed to leverage the University’s role as an urban land-grant institution. He partnered with the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium to improve high-speed internet access in four federally designated poverty zone in the twin cities.
Jones is married to Dr. Lynn Hassan Jones, a diagnostic radiologist. Together they have five children and two grandchildren.
Robert J. Jones full biography and curriculum vitae are available online at http://go.uillinois.edu/2016Chancellor.
Additional comments from UIUC deans and directors who participate in interviews with Dr. Jones:
Vikram Amar, dean, College of Law
“Robert brings great energy, experiences and values to Illinois. He is an extremely impressive leader and person, and I very much look forward to working with him.”
Jeffrey Brown, dean, College of Business
“Robert rose to the top of an extraordinarily impressive group of finalists, because he is the right person to lead us during these challenging times. He is a strategic thinker with a clear vision who recognizes the financial challenges we face, but who also understands that we can manage through them and continue to aspire to greatness. “
Wynne Korr, dean, School of Social Work
“As dean of Social Work, I was impressed by Dr. Jones’ commitment to university-community engagement, globally and locally.”
Ed Seidel, director, National Center for Supercomputing Applications
“I could not be more pleased that Robert Jones will be our next chancellor. He has both the diversity of experience and the vision needed to lead this great institution.”
Josh Whitman, director, Intercollegiate Athletics
"Having enjoyed the recent opportunity to visit at length with our new chancellor, Dr. Robert Jones, I commend President Killeen on an outstanding selection to lead the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Jones brings a wealth of experience to the position, including a focus on the student experience that I greatly appreciate. With President Killeen and Dr. Jones in place, I look forward to a new era of stability and success for the University of Illinois and Fighting Illini Athletics."
The University of Illinois System is a world leader in research and discovery, the largest educational institution in the state with more than 80,000 students, 24,000 faculty and staff, and campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. The U of I awards more than 20,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees annually.
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