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President Timothy L. Killeen - Biography

Timothy L. Killeen is the 20th president of the University of Illinois System, which includes universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. He took office in May 2015 and received a new contract in 2024 that extends his term through June 2027.

Since taking office, Killeen has helped lead a surge of growth across the state’s flagship university system. Enrollment is at record highs, including increases among in-state and underrepresented students. Student costs have been held in check by affordability initiatives that include a tuition freeze for new Illinois students six of the last eight years and substantial increases in institutional financial aid. Retention and graduation rates top national norms, while student debt rates are lower than U.S. averages.

Under Killeen’s leadership, the system is about a third of the way toward the planned addition of 300 faculty members over three years, on top of those hired to fill vacancies. The system has also invested more than $600 million in facilities supporting teaching and research since 2019 and continued investments over the next decade will ensure classroom and research space matches the system’s academic excellence.

A leading researcher in geophysics and space sciences, Killeen champions efforts to expand research discovery that drives progress and job creation. That includes helping lead the creation of two pioneering initiatives to drive innovation and workforce development – Discovery Partners Institute, a world-class research, technology talent development and business-building center in downtown Chicago, and Illinois Innovation Network, a system of satellite hubs that combine research, public-private partnerships, entrepreneurship and workforce training to spur inclusive economic development across the state.

In alignment with its mission, The University of Illinois System contributes $19 billion annually to the state’s economy through research, hospital and entrepreneurial activities, along with the universities’ students, visitors and alumni. A 2022 study showed the system’s impact on the state grew by 8.6 percent – roughly $1.5 billion – since 2018.

In addition, Killeen reaffirmed the system’s commitment to the arts and humanities, launching a program that pumped nearly $3.5 million into faculty initiatives that underscore their importance to a well-rounded education.

The ongoing growth is rooted in the Strategic Framework that Killeen helped develop early in his presidency to guide the U of I System for the next decade. The roadmap set high-aspiration goals to make the U of I System a model for higher education in the 21st century, and build on its more than 150-year legacy of service to students, innovation and the public good.

In 2021, Killeen launched the annual U of I System leadership state tour with the goal of connecting with businesses, communities, schools, lawmakers, alumni and more to strengthen existing partnerships and forge new ones that improve the lives of Illinois residents.

When he joined the U of I System, Killeen brought more than three decades of experience as an educator, researcher and administrator in public higher education and in leadership positions with national scientific research agencies.

Earlier, he served as vice chancellor for research and president of the Research Foundation at the State University of New York, one of the nation’s largest higher education systems. He also served as assistant director for geosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), as the Lyall Research Professor at the University of Colorado, and as director and senior scientist for the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Additionally, Killeen spent more than 20 years as a faculty member and researcher at the University of Michigan, where he also served as associate vice president for research.

He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2007, and is a member and past president of the American Geophysical Union and a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Killeen has authored more than 150 publications in peer-reviewed journals, along with more than 300 other publications and papers.

A native of Wales and a U.S. citizen, Killeen received his bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy at University College London, where he also earned his doctoral degree in atomic and molecular physics and was later awarded an honorary doctorate degree for his significant contribution to research.

Killeen's wife, Roberta M. Johnson, holds B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in geophysics and space physics from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers, review articles, abstracts and non-referred reports and articles in the area of upper mesosphere and lower thermosphere research, as well as on educational programs. 

She was a research physicist at SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., from 1987-89. She continued her research at the University of Michigan Space Physics Research Laboratory as a research scientist from 1989-2000. While at the University of Michigan, beginning in 1995, she initiated the Windows to the Universe project, which brings multi-level scientific background content and new research results to students, educators and the public, and continues to the present day. 

From 2000-10, Johnson served as the founding director of education and outreach at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and a scientist at the High Altitude Observatory from 2000-11. From 2006-15, she directed the National Earth Science Teachers Association. From 2012-15, she served as a clinical professor at the State University of New York at Albany in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. 

Johnson has extensive experience advising NASA, NSF and professional societies on topics in education and outreach, the uses of cyber-infrastructure for education and diversity, and has served on numerous advisory boards for projects in these areas. She led an ad hoc review of science education for the International Council for Science in 2010, and served as a member of the National Academy of Sciences Climate Change Education Roundtable from 2010-12. 

In 2016, she was recognized with the American Geophysical Union’s Athelstan Spilhaus Award for her work to bring the excitement and beauty of the geosciences to the public. In 2017, she received the National Earth Science Teachers Association Jan Woerner and Harold B. Stonehouse Lifetime Achievement Award. 

The Killeens have three children and two grandsons.

Tim Killeen

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