Antonio D. Tillis hit the ground running when he began his tenure as Rutgers University–Camden’s chancellor on July 1, 2021. “I have been fortunate to have enjoyed a fruitful and productive first year at Rutgers–Camden,” said Tillis, a noted scholar of Afro-Hispanic studies who previously served as interim president of the University of Houston–Downtown.
Accomplishments from Tillis’ first year leading the university include his “15 in 5” slate of initiatives, which consists of 15 strategic programs in a five-year strategic plan. Initiatives that have already launched include the Chancellor’s Learning Abroad Course Scholarship, the Chancellor’s Grant for Staff Development, and the inaugural edition of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series on Global Racial Reckoning and Civility, which featured noted author and scholar Sheryll Cashin.
Another program in Tillis’ 15 in 5 plan is the Chancellor’s Mayoral Internship Program, which will give at least five students per year the opportunity to work alongside civic leaders in the City of Camden’s Mayor’s Office. “This program is an excellent example of how we can serve the city of Camden as an anchor institution striving for the public good,” Tillis said. “Our students will be introduced to the many possibilities that accompany a career in public service. And they will bring their own knowledge to the internships, applying their skills to help advance the key government functions that are essential to the life of our great city.”
Minority Serving and Hispanic-Serving Designations
In January of Tillis’ first year, Rutgers–Camden achieved status as a Minority-Serving Institution. The U.S. Department of Education designation—given to institutions where 50 percent of undergraduates are minority students—ensures increased access to higher education for low-income and minority students. To build on that designation, Tillis is striving for the Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institution designation. “We are very close to achieving that additional distinction,” Tillis said, adding that it will bring numerous benefits to Rutgers–Camden and better serve Hispanic residents of South Jersey and beyond.
While Tillis has worked to strengthen Rutgers–Camden’s influence in the city of Camden and across South Jersey, he has also developed and enhanced the university’s ties around the globe. He attended the 25th Learning Abroad trip to South Africa in March, and he also visited a university in Egypt to develop a partnership. In addition, he has been closely involved in Rutgers–Camden’s expanding relationship with Universidad Nacional de Asunción (UNA), Paraguay’s largest university. “Rutgers–Camden is very focused on making local impact,” Tillis said, “but we also have an extensive global reach.”
Rites of Passage Ceremony
The first traditional commencement ceremonies that Tillis presided over in May included the inaugural iteration of the Rites of Passage ceremony at Rutgers–Camden, a pre-commencement event that began at Rutgers–New Brunswick in 1992 to honor Black and Latino/a students.
In September, Tillis will introduce the first convocation to be held at Rutgers–Camden, a new tradition that will bring together students to mark the beginning of their journeys through a new academic year. “I’m very excited to establish this convocation, which will energize the campus,” he said. “Rutgers–Camden is a place that cherishes its traditions, and this will be one more tradition that we will all look forward to enjoying.”
Tillis has also built a new leadership team to guide Rutgers–Camden. In October 2021, he hired Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications Toni Mooney Smith, who holds a Master of Science in communication from Northwestern University and has decades of proven expertise in strategic communications, branding, and media relations. Mooney Smith brought vast knowledge of the higher-education environment from her time as an executive director of marketing and communications at the University of Houston. In February 2022, Tillis promoted Marsha Besong—who had been Rutgers–Camden’s assistant chancellor for student academic success—to vice chancellor for student academic success. Besong holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Wilmington University and came to Rutgers-Camden with over 15 years’ experience. Later that month, Tillis brought Matthew Schillizzi aboard as manager of special projects and initiatives. Schillizzi holds a Master of Education from Temple University and has over a decade of experience overseeing academic programs, admissions, and campus events as a project manager. In March, Tillis welcomed Endia DeCordova, who previously served as associate vice president for development and strategic initiatives at the University of Connecticut Foundation, as the new vice chancellor for advancement. DeCordova holds an MBA from Hartford University.
In May, he filled a key leadership position when he hired John Griffin, an esteemed higher education leader and scholar, as dean of the Rutgers–Camden Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Tillis also is overseeing a national search for a new provost and executive chancellor, an opening he filled on an interim basis with Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden Dean Donna Nickitas. “I’m thrilled with the abilities and determination of these leaders, who will work with me to forge a bright future for Rutgers–Camden,” Tillis said.
Although Tillis looks back fondly on his first year, he is not resting on his laurels. “As successful as we have been, it is just a beginning,” he said. “There is so much more I hope to accomplish as we go forward into my second year.”
Established FY22 Diversity Faculty Hiring Initiative that yielded five new tenured/tenure-track faculty from under-represented minority groups for AY23.
Instituted Chancellor’s Learning Abroad Course Scholarship: This scholarship seeks to aid students in international discovery by providing financial support for short-term travel that supplements their regular semester courses.
Instituted Chancellor’s Mayoral Internship Program: Chancellor Tillis and City of Camden Mayor Victor Carstarphen signed an MOU cementing an agreement to create the Chancellor’s Mayoral Internship Program on May 16, 2022. The five-year partnership between Rutgers‒Camden and the City of Camden will give at least five students per year the opportunity to work alongside civic leaders.
Instituted Chancellor’s Grant for Staff Development: This grant provides Rutgers University–Camden professional staff additional support for professional development opportunities external to Rutgers University.
Instituted Chancellor’s Lecture Series on Global Racial Reckoning and Civility: The inaugural lecture, held on April 11, 2022, was delivered by Sheryll Cashin, the Carmack Waterhouse Professor at Georgetown Law and author of the book White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequity.
Instituted Chancellor’s Grant for Faculty Research: This grant enhances Rutgers University–Camden’s research and creative activities by awarding funds to strengthen external grant applications and by providing seed funding for faculty research projects for supplies, equipment, software, travel expenses related to carrying out research.
Created and Empaneled the Chancellor’s DEI Council, consisting of faculty, staff, students, and members of our community.
Created and implemented the Rutgers–Camden DEI Strategic Plan, which has been embraced as a grassroots initiative.
Inaugurated campus traditions to reinforce and celebrate our Rutgers–Camden community:
- Rites of Passage, a ceremony celebrating our Black and Hispanic graduating students.
- Chancellor’s Fall and Spring Addresses, opportunities for the campus community to come together to share information and ideas.
- Coffee with the Chancellor sessions, building our community by providing opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to enjoy coffee and conversation.
- Celebration of employee anniversaries on campus, to provide opportunities for our community to celebrate milestone achievements of our colleagues.
- Created Chancellor’s Committee on the Arts: Assembled committee of faculty, students, staff, and local arts leaders to advise the chancellor on creating a year-long celebration of the arts at Rutgers–Camden.
Awards, Honors and Distinctions
2022: Honorary Doctorate Honoris Causa, National University of Asunción, Paraguay
2022: New Jersey Business Magazine, Top 50 Business Leaders in South Jersey
2021: New Jersey Business Magazine, Education Power 50 in New Jersey
2021: Commencement speaker, University of Houston –Downtown
2021: Presidential Medallion recipient, University of Houston – Downtown
2021: Mayoral Proclamation by Memphis’s Mayor Jim Strickland declaring June 19th, 2021 “Dr. Antonio D. Tillis Day” in the city of Memphis, TN
Creative Design: Karaamat Abdullah & Doug Shelton