test image

 Easter awarded Trustees’ Distinguished Service Medallion
Retiring president also receives emeritus title, incentive-based compensation

May 7, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. —The University of Illinois Board of Trustees on Thursday presented its Distinguished Service Medallion to retiring President Robert Easter, honoring his more than 40 years with the University that began as a graduate student and took him to the presidency.

Trustees also named Easter to the title of President Emeritus for his service as the University’s 19th president and approved $167,200 in incentive-based compensation for 2014-15 under an annual program created three years ago that ties presidential pay to performance.

The Distinguished Service Medallion is only the 29th presented by the board since the honor was created in 1974 to recognize individuals who have contributed to the University’s growth and development with “unusual distinction.” Past awards have honored three University presidents, public officials, faculty, staff, alumni and donors, including professor and two-time Nobel Prize winner John Bardeen and Illini football icon Harold “Red” Grange.

Easter, who will retire May 17, came to the Urbana-Champaign campus as a graduate student in 1973, and joined the faculty after earning his doctorate in animal science in 1976. He later served as a department head, dean, interim provost, interim chancellor and interim vice chancellor for research at UIUC and as president of the three-campus system since 2012.

In a resolution accompanying the award, trustees cited Easter’s deep loyalty and devotion to the University, noting that he postponed a planned retirement to serve as interim chancellor from 2009-2011 and came out of retirement to serve as president for the last three years.

“Bob never failed to answer the call when his wisdom and steady hand were needed during difficult times, and often he and his wife Cheryl put the University’s interests above their own,” board Chairman Edward L. McMillan said. “His many talents have left a lasting mark on a University regarded among the world’s best, but he will be remembered just as much for his integrity, his kindness and a spirit of service that we hope to instill in every graduate.”

Easter, who will be succeeded by incoming President Timothy L. Killeen on May 18, said his career-long connection with the University has always been a source of pride.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to be part of a University that is known globally for excellence, and to work side-by-side with colleagues who are the best in their fields and share a passion for our students and our future,” Easter said.

Trustees also awarded Easter the title of President Emeritus, recognizing his “stellar and unwavering commitment to the University of Illinois.” Easter also holds the rank of Professor Emeritus for a career on the UIUC faculty that made him an internationally known expert in livestock nutrition.

The board also approved $167,200 in incentive-based pay to Easter for the fiscal year that began last July 1 under a compensation program developed in 2013 to move away from retention initiatives that are often paid to senior administrators in higher education and tend to make longevity a premium rather than results.

The performance-based incentive program is part of the compensation package in Easter’s contract and links his pay to progress toward specific goals set by the board that advance the University and its missions of education, research, public service and economic development.

Approval of Easter’s performance payment follows board evaluation of his progress toward goals such as working with Killeen to ensure an effective transition of the presidency; fostering institutional advancement through new personal contacts with donors, legislators and industry; increasing diversity among students, faculty, staff and vendors; and filling key leadership positions, including the recent hiring of Chancellor Michael Amiridis on the Chicago campus.

Easter was eligible for up to $176,000 under the annual program, a pro-rated amount based on his 10 ½ months on the job during fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30. He received $180,000 of a possible $200,000 last year and $90,000 of a possible $100,000 during the first year of the program.

Combined with his base salary of $478,558, the payment increases Easter’s total compensation for his final year as president to $645,758, which ranks eighth among presidents of the 14 Big Ten universities.

New trustee

Trustees also installed UIUC graduate Jill Smart as a new member of the board. Smart was appointed to a six-year term in January by Gov. Bruce Rauner along with UIC alumnus Ramon Cepeda, who was installed in March.

Smart, 55, a Republican from Downers Grove, is currently president of the National Academy of Human Resources, a non-profit organization that recognizes institutions and individuals for achievement in human resources. She retired last year from Accenture in Chicago, a management consulting and technology services firm where she worked for 33 years, the last 10 as chief human resources officer. She graduated from the Urbana-Champaign campus in 1981 with a degree in business administration.

Smart and Cepeda, who also serve on the board of the University of Illinois Alumni Association, fill seats held by former board Chairman Christopher Kennedy and Trustee Pamela Strobel, whose terms expired in January.

Internal Auditor Appointment

The board reappointed Julie Zemaitis to another five-year term as chief internal auditor, effective July 1. Under Illinois law, state agencies and universities are required to appoint a chief internal auditor, who is responsible for leading internal audit operations for the three U of I campuses and University-related organizations.

Zemaitis has served in the role since 2005, known at the University as executive director of the Office of University Audits, which provides independent assurance and consulting services that evaluate the effectiveness of risk management, internal control and governance processes. The office assists all levels of management in the achievement of University goals and objectives by striving to provide a positive impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the University's operations.

New residence hall

A new residence hall that will open in the fall of 2016 in the Stanley O. Ikenberry Commons at UIUC was named Wassaja Hall, honoring the first Native American student and first racial minority to graduate from the University of Illinois, in 1884.

Wassaja, which means “signaling” or “beckoning” in his native Yavapai language, was stolen from his family at age 5 and sold as a slave to an itinerant Italian photographer who adopted him and renamed him Carlos Montezuma.

They traveled the American southwest on photographic expeditions and performed briefly with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show before settling in Chicago, where Wassaja started school and proved to be a talented student. Seeking a more permanent setting for his education, his adoptive father placed him in the care of a Baptist minister in Urbana, where he graduated from high school and later enrolled at the University of Illinois at the age of 14.

After graduating from the U of I, Wassaja earned his medical degree from Chicago Medical School, a branch of Northwestern University, and is believed to be the first Native American to receive a medical degree from a U.S. university.

Along with practicing medicine, Wassaja became a national leader for Native American rights and helped found the Society of American Indians, the first organization created by and for Native Americans to advocate for their rights. His activism helped secure land and water rights for the Yavapai, setting a precedent for other Native American nations.

Continuing budget resolution

The board also approved a resolution to keep the University operating legally after its current fiscal year ends June 30. The annual resolution is required to pay bills and maintain operations until the legislature finalizes a new state budget for the fiscal year 2016 that begins July 1.

The resolution authorizes expenditures based on fiscal 2015 funding levels until the state’s fiscal 2016 budget is signed into law. The University’s total operating budget for fiscal 2015 is $5.6 billion.

The board will consider the University’s operating budget for fiscal 2016 later this year.

Day at the Capitol

After the meeting, some trustees, Easter and other top administrators joined alumni and supporters at the state Capitol to advocate on behalf of the University as the legislature weighs decisions that are critical to its future.

The University’s seventh annual Day at the Capitol, sponsored by the U of I Alumni Association, marked the second straight year that trustees scheduled their regular May board meeting to coincide with the effort to meet face-to-face with lawmakers and advocate for the University’s interests.

The University’s efforts included a push for state funding to maintain the academic quality that serves the needs of students and the state. This year, the three-campus U of I system has an annual operating budget of $5.6 billion, of which about $663 million is provided by the state in general revenue funds.

In his fiscal 2016 budget blueprint, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed a 31.5 percent funding cut for the state’s public universities. Officials say a reduction of that scale would slash funding by $209 million for the University of Illinois and would be felt in every phase of the University’s operation – student tuition, class sizes, the quality of academic and research programs, the size of its workforce and the ability to deliver the graduates and innovation that help drive progress and economic growth.


The University of Illinois is a world leader in research and discovery, the largest educational institution in the state with more than 78,000 students, 25,000 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.