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Kennedy re-elected U of I Board chairman
Trustees also extend contract of Urbana athletics director

Jan. 23, 2014

CHICAGO — Christopher G. Kennedy was re-elected as chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees today during its annual organizational meeting on the University’s Chicago campus.         

Kennedy, a Chicago businessman, has served as chairman since he was first appointed to the board in 2009. He chairs a 12-member board that governs the U of I and its campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield, with more than 78,000 students, more than 23,000 faculty and staff, and a $5.6 billion annual budget.

During his five years as chairman, the board has restored confidence in the integrity of senior leadership and established a tone at the top for strong ethical behavior and undivided commitment to the best interests of the University in the wake of a 2009 admissions controversy. The board also has helped guide the University through a deep national recession and ongoing financial challenges facing the state of Illinois, while educating the best-prepared incoming classes in its nearly 150-year history.

“All of us who are associated with the University feel lucky to be part of the greatest institution of its kind,” Kennedy said.

He is chairman of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises Inc., the investment firm of the Kennedy family. As chairman, he is responsible for the Kennedy family’s real estate holdings in Chicago known as Wolf Point. He also is founder and chairman of Top Box Foods, a nonprofit organization that provides low-cost food staples to families in need. From 2000 to 2011, he was president of Merchandise Mart Properties, a commercial property management firm based in Chicago.

Kennedy, 50, of Kenilworth, is a member of several business and economic development organizations, including the Economic Club of Chicago and Commercial Club of Chicago, and is past chairman of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. He is a board member of the Catholic Theological Union and the Chicago Community Trust, and is co-chair of the Cook County Sustainability Advisory Council. He received a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and his MBA from Northwestern University.

Trustees also re-elected Thomas R. Bearrows as University legal counsel, Susan M. Kies as secretary of the University and Walter K. Knorr as comptroller. All will serve one-year terms.

The board also re-elected its three-member Executive Committee, which meets as needed to complete urgent University business that cannot be postponed to a regular meeting. Members of the committee are Kennedy, and trustees Edward L. McMillan, of Greenville, and Pamela B. Strobel, of Winnetka.

Other U of I trustees are Ricardo Estrada, of Chicago; Patrick Fitzgerald, of Chicago; Karen Hasara, of Springfield; Patricia Brown Holmes, of Chicago; Timothy Koritz, of Roscoe; and James Montgomery, of Chicago. Student trustees are Michael Cunningham from the Urbana-Champaign campus; Jamaal Hollins from the Springfield campus; and Danielle Leibowitz from the Chicago campus.

Complete board and committee membership and other information are available at the Board of Trustees’ website – http://www.uillinois.edu/trustees/.

Urbana athletics director

The board approved a three-year contract extension for Mike Thomas, director of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics in Urbana. Under the new agreement, Thomas will head the Illini athletics program through Aug. 28, 2019.

Thomas was hired in August 2011 under a five-year contract, which included an option for a two-year extension pending a 24-month performance review. After the review, Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise exercised the option, and added a third year to Thomas’ contract.

His new contract also includes an option for another two-year extension, pending future performance reviews.

“In his tenure at Illinois, Mike Thomas has kept his focus squarely on the ‘student’ when it comes to our student-athletes,” Wise said. “He has developed a leadership team of coaches, administrators and advancement officers who are dedicated to building a sustainable and nationally-recognized program that ensures our student-athletes’ success on the playing field and in the classroom. He understands that the Illinois experience for these students is one that isn’t measured in years of eligibility, but in preparing them for lives of impact.”

In his two years as athletics director, Illini athletic teams posted a combined grade-point average of 3.05 in 2011-12 and 3.12 in 2012-13, and the 90 percent student athlete graduation rate in 2013 tied for best in school history.

Fifteen of 19 varsity teams participated in post-season play in the last two academic years, and Illinois won a national title in men’s gymnastics and was national runner-up in volleyball and golf.

Under Thomas’ leadership, the campus also launched a $160 million renovation of State Farm Center, funded in part through a $60 million agreement with State Farm Insurance that is the country’s largest corporate naming-rights deal with a college-only venue. In addition to the State Farm commitment, the athletics department secured a record $34.1million in cash and pledges in fiscal 2013.

Thomas, a college athletics administrator for nearly three decades, was athletics director at the University of Cincinnati for six years before coming to the U of I.

Interim dentistry dean

Trustees approved the appointment of G. William Knight as interim dean of the College of Dentistry on the Chicago campus. He replaces Bruce Graham, who stepped down after 13 years as dean to return to the faculty as a professor of restorative dentistry at UIC. 

Knight will continue in his current roles as a professor of restorative dentistry and as the college’s executive associate dean for academic affairs, where he was instrumental in transforming the college’s professional doctorate program. He joined the college in 2001 as a professor and assistant dean for clinical education, and was named executive associate dean for academic affairs in 2009.

A national search is underway for a permanent dean.

 Other business

The board also approved all items on its agenda for its first meeting of 2014. All of the board items are listed on the Board of Trustees’ website – http://www.uillinois.edu/trustees/agenda/January%2024,%202013--Meeting/.


The University of Illinois is a world leader in research and discovery, the largest educational institution in the state with more than 77,000 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.