Dr. Robert Kelley earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, in 1965, and his master’s degree in 1966 and doctorate in 1969, both in cell and developmental biology from the University of California, Berkeley.
Following the receipt of his degree, Dr. Kelley taught anatomy at the University of New Mexico, School of Medicine where he served as chair of the Department of Anatomy and senior executive associate dean from 1981-1997. From there, he went on to teach biological sciences at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of anatomy and cell biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Medicine where he also served as Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Executive Associate Dean of the Graduate College. In 1999, he was dean of the College of Health Sciences and professor of medical education and public health at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Kelley began serving as University of North Dakota’s 11th president July 1, 2008.
Dr. Kelley has served as chair of the Assembly for the Association of American Medical Colleges, chaired the Council of Academic Societies for the AAMC, and was a member of the executive board of the National Board of Medical Examiners, which is responsible for the U.S. medical licensure examination. In addition, he has served the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on several study sections, served on the director’s advisory board for NIH strategic planning, and chaired the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program advisory committee in the NIH Division of Research Resources. That program helped support research for historically black universities, tribal colleges, and "minority-majority" institutions. He also served as principal investigator for the University of Wyoming/Northern Rockies INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence), an NIH program which promotes biomedical research and connects the state’s community colleges with the University of Wyoming.
Dr. Kelley served as Associate Editor of The Anatomical Record from 1971-1998. He also served on AAA’s Public Affairs Committee from 1988-1995, which he chaired from 1992-1995. In 2004, he received the AAA/Wiley A.J. Ladman Exemplary Service Award. Dr. Kelley was selected as a Fellow of the American Association of Anatomists in 2007 an honor recognizing distinguished members who have demonstrated excellence in science and their overall contributions to the anatomical sciences.
He and his wife, Marcia Bell Kelley, who was a lecturer in the University of Wyoming Department of Communication Disorders, have four children.