- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

URBANA, Ill. (AP) - The University of Illinois’ new chancellor said Wednesday that he will spend his first 100 days on the job listening and asking questions instead of announcing grand plans for the school.

Robert Jones was introduced at the Urbana-Champaign campus he will oversee. After speaking to a packed ballroom at the Illini Union, he told reporters that he doesn’t want to impose a set of ideas when he begins work in October.

“I could come in here and throw some things on the wall, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” the 65-year-old Jones said.

Jones said public universities need to continue to be an option for people from modest backgrounds like his own. His father was a sharecropper in Georgia. But he also said they need to make sure students from middle-income families can afford to attend. The cost of a four-year degree at the flagship University of Illinois campus now exceeds $100,000.

“We have a tendency to focus, I think, much too narrowly just on low-income students,” he said. “There are a lot of students from so-called middle-income brackets who are struggling as well.”

College of Education Dean Mary Kalantzis, who listened to Jones’ speech, said she likes his initial approach and his plan to listen before taking broad action. She hopes he can bring stability to the leadership of the school, which has recently faced turmoil and turnover among top officials.

Including two long-term interim chancellors, Jones will be the fifth person to hold the title over the past decade. Two of them resigned under intense pressure, including the last permanent chancellor, Phyllis Wise, who stepped down last year over her use of private emails to discuss university business.

“I do think there is a lot of tension on our campus, a lot of divisiveness over what’s happened,” Kalantzis said.

University trustees are expected to approve Jones’ appointment on Thursday. He will be paid $649,000 a year.

Jones is currently president of State University of New York at Albany and previously spent 34 years at the University of Minnesota.

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