Spring 2019 Morning Undergraduate Commencement Speaker & Honorary Degree Recipient
Robert A. Easter, President Emeritus of the University Of Illinois
Robert A. “Bob” Easter is President Emeritus of the University of Illinois, having served that institution with distinction for 42 years. His was a career of exceptional intellectual activity, and outstanding leadership, all delivered with humility and integrity.
Dr. Easter was appointed a Lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign in 1976 and became a full Professor in 1987. Following a 26 year career in research, he assumed the position of Department Head in 1996 and after five successful years, was appointed Dean of the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
In 2009, he was asked to serve as Interim Provost for the flagship Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus until a search for a permanent Provost could be completed. Beginning in May of that year, the Chicago Tribune published a series of articles questioning the role of several gubernatorially appointed University of Illinois Trustees in obtaining admission of non-qualified students to the Urbana campus. In the ensuing months, several Trustees, the University System President, and the Chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus resigned.
In the fall of 2009, the reconstituted Board of Trustees asked Dr. Easter to assume leadership of the UIUC campus as Interim Chancellor, a position he held until 2011. In 2012, Dr. Easter was appointed President to “bring stability” to the university system. He accepted that offer and remained in that office until 2015. During this period, he worked tirelessly with faculty and administrators, external stakeholders, the governor, state legislators, federal agencies and members of the Illinois Congressional delegation to restore morale and sustain funding in support of the educational, teaching and public service missions of the university.
During Dr. Easter’s tenure as President, enrollment on all three campuses continued to grow as did research funding. There was a leadership transition on the Chicago campus and successful restructuring of the administrative structure on that campus in recognition of the specialized requirements of the seven health science colleges, the affiliated medical colleges in Peoria and Rockford, the billion-dollar per year teaching hospital, and the associated clinics throughout Chicago. Shortly before his retirement, the Board approved an initiative to create a specialized, engineering-science-based medical college on the Urbana campus.
In recognition of Dr. Easter’s career in research, he was the recipient of the American Feed Industry Association Award in Non-Ruminant Nutrition and the Fellow Award, both presented by the American Society of Animal Science. He was also made an honorary member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. His service to the university was acknowledged with the Distinguished Service Medallion presented by the Board of Trustees. The University of Illinois Foundation raised in excess of $2 million to establish the Robert A. Easter Chair to be held by the Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
Despite a tremendous workload on campus, Dr. Easter also served his country and his community. He was a member of the U.S. Army Reserves for 20 years. President George W. Bush appointed him to Chair the Board on International Food and Agricultural Development, the agricultural advisory board to the Director of USAID. He served on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs committee assigned to develop recommendations for the U.S. Farm Bill in 2002 and 2008. He chaired the Task Force on Antibiotic Resistance, a joint effort of the Association of American Veterinary Colleges and the APLU. Since retirement, he serves as an advisor to two USAID international agricultural development projects and on numerous Boards including two organizations active in supporting increased funding for agricultural research, the Agricultural Leadership Foundation, the Illinois State Fair Foundation, the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, and FARM Illinois, which he served as founding chair. He speaks regularly at meetings in the U.S. and internationally on food and agricultural and university leadership topics.
Dr. Easter is a scholar who is as adept at research as he is in disseminating knowledge to solve real problems. He achieved distinction as an administrator, achieving great success at each level: a good listener, a compassionate colleague and an administrator who always placed his highest priority on the best interests of his institution. As such, he is a model for advancing the mission of land grant institutions. Indeed, Easter’s whole career exemplifies Iowa State University’s motto of “science with practice.”
Dr. Easter grew up on a grain and swine operation in southwest Texas and earned his undergraduate and master's degrees at Texas A&M University and his doctorate at the University of Illinois. Dr. Easter and his wife, Cheryl, currently live in rural Mahomet, Illinois and have two children and six grandchildren.