Tillis named chancellor at Rutgers-Camden

Current interim president at U. of Houston-Downtown brings wealth of experience

How’s this for a resume?

Antonio Tillis currently is the interim president of the University of Houston-Downtown, a comprehensive urban institution offering more than 50 degree-granting programs and serving more than 15,000 students.

He previously served as dean of the School of Languages, Culture and World Affairs at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where he instituted numerous initiatives, including the Wells Fargo International Scholarship for Study Abroad for low-income, in-state students.

Prior to that, he chaired the Department of African and African American Studies at Dartmouth College and served as the inaugural director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Purdue University.

He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, the recipient of Fulbright Fellowship to Brazil, a collector of contemporary art from West Africa, Cuba, Brazil and the U.S., the author of numerous books — including one on Trayvon Martin — and someone who enjoys performing as a lyric baritone.

Tillis will be the next chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden.

Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway said Tillis is the perfect person to help grow the campus and the city. Tillis will begin the role July 1.

“Antonio Tillis is a brilliant scholar and gifted administrator whose commitment to the transformative power of higher education presents an exceptional opportunity for both Rutgers and New Jersey,” Holloway said.

“Rutgers is deeply invested in bringing opportunity and growth to Camden. Antonio Tillis will be a driving force in helping Rutgers University and the city of Camden reach new heights. We are proud that he will lead Rutgers University-Camden.”

Tillis, 55, will be charged with leading a campus with more than 7,200 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in 39 undergraduate and 29 graduate programs.

Tillis said he is eager for the role.

“It is an honor to be given the opportunity to lead an institution as engaged, diverse and student-centered as Rutgers University-Camden,” he said. “This is an outstanding university that clearly demonstrates its commitment to public values and to building upon its tradition as a place of access for first-generation college students seeking a world-class Rutgers degree, and the opportunities that come with that degree.”

Tillis holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Vanderbilt University and a master’s degree in Spanish literature from Howard University. He earned his Ph.D. in Latin American literature (with an Afro-Hispanic emphasis) from the University of Missouri at Columbia.

“I am a first-generation college student,” he said. “I understand what drives Rutgers-Camden students. It’s not just about them — their success also is about the elevation of their families and their communities. I look forward to working with these students to help them take full advantage of the opportunities before them and to make sure that they are supported.”

It’s what Tillis has done throughout his distinctive academic career.

Rutgers-Camden, which has been nationally recognized for its commitment to access for first-generation students, as well as its innovative civic engagement programs, recently achieved status as a Carnegie National R2 Research University.

At the University of Houston-Downtown, Tillis worked collaboratively to promote student and faculty development, engage the community and advance the strategic vision for the second-largest campus in the University of Houston system.

Prior to becoming interim president, he served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the largest of the 15 academic and professional colleges at the university. Under his leadership, the reputation and resources of that school grew significantly. He successfully led a $60 million fundraising campaign while developing new opportunities for student learning experiences and creating partnerships with community organizations in the city and throughout the region.

Tillis also increased student scholarships, recruited and retained nationally known faculty, created an infrastructure to nurture the research profile of the school, and greatly expanded outreach to the city by launching such programs as the Dean’s Mayoral Summer Internship and a mobile unit to deliver social and health-related services in the community.

At the College of Charleston, he instituted the Dean’s Collaborative Interdisciplinary Summer Research Award for International Engagement; and the Summer International Internships for students in India, Brazil and Ghana.

Frank Hundley, chair of the Rutgers-Camden board of directors and a member of the Rutgers University board of governors, said the school was excited to make the announcement.

“Dr. Tillis is a scholar who brings a wealth of knowledge, talent and excitement to our campus and will take Rutgers’ presence in South Jersey and the Philadelphia region to unprecedented heights,” he said.

A noted scholar in the field of Afro-Hispanic studies, Tillis is the coeditor of several books, including “US: An American Tragedy,” “The Afro-Hispanic Reader and Anthology” and “Critical Perspectives on Afro-Latin American Literature.” He has served as editor of the journal Publication of the Afro-Latin/American Research Association, as coeditor of the Afro-Hispanic Review and as associate editor of the International Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies.

He received his Fulbright Fellowship in 2009 and has since presented his scholarship at lectures and conferences across the U.S. and around the world.

Sharing what he has learned drives him, Tillis said.

“It is especially important that Rutgers-Camden students learn with, and are mentored by, a truly impressive faculty who consistently are at the vanguard of generating new ideas to improve our society,” he said. “I am very excited to work with the academic enterprise to cultivate the support it needs to thrive as a research institution, which will provide our students with unparalleled learning opportunity while firmly defining both Camden and southern New Jersey as a nexus for innovation.”