Robert J. Jones became chancellor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on September 26, 2016. Jones, who served as president of the University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY) since 2013, is an experienced and accomplished scientist and research university leader.
Jones’ tenure at one of the SUNY system’s leading research universities 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, born in 1951, 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.
Throughout his career, Dr. Jones has worked to make education available to promising young scholars around the world, speaking and teaching in Africa, Asia and Europe. From 1984-1994, he worked with Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the Archbishop’s South African Education Program as an academic and scientific consultant.
In addition to serving as chancellor of the Urbana university, Jones is a vice president of the University of Illinois System, which also has universities in Chicago and Springfield. Jones also holds a tenured faculty position in the Department of Crop Sciences, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Jones is the first African-American scholar appointed as Urbana chancellor since the office was created in 1967.
During his tenure at Albany, Jones launched that 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 Albany’s first vice presidency for health sciences and biomedical initiatives, and started the conversation about reinvigorating the arts and humanities.
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 vice president 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.
Dr. Jones is an accomplished vocalist, and was a member of the Grammy award-winning Sounds of Blackness, a Minnesota-based choral ensemble.
Jones is married to Dr. Lynn Hassan Jones, a diagnostic radiologist. Together they have five children and two grandchildren.