Louise M. Conley, Ph.D., a member of the Cortland College Foundation Board of Directors, was recognized on Saturday, Sept. 24, for bequeathing $1 million to create SUNY Cortland’s very first endowed academic chair.
Conley was also honored on Friday, Sept. 23, at the grand reopening ceremony of Cheney Hall, the residence hall that bears her late grandfather’s name.
Conley, of Princeton, N.J., is the granddaughter of Francis J. Cheney, the second principal of the Cortland Normal School. The Louise M. Conley Chair in Educational Leadership will provide additional funds for a faculty member in the Educational Leadership Department to support his or her research and teaching. Dwight Pfennig, an assistant professor and former school district superintendent, is the first recipient of the endowed chair.
Although the full bequest will eventually go to the College as part of her estate, Conley, a licensed psychologist, agreed to advance $100,000 of the bequest earlier this year. That allowed the College to fill the endowed chair this semester. The endowed chair will generate between $40,000 and $50,000 annually for its recipient. Its funds can be used for research, teaching, student assistants or departmental needs, but they cannot be used for salaries.
“Louise M. Conley is a champion of public education,” said Douglas DeRancy ’75, M.S.Ed. ’85, assistant to the vice president for institutional advancement. “She never lost her connection to the College or its mission to provide a unique and affordable education.”
Before she is honored for creating the College’s first endowed academic chair, Conley will offer remarks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Cheney Hall at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23. She joins President Erik J. Bitterbaum, Vice President for Student Affairs C. Gregory Sharer and Director of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction Jeffrey Lallas as speakers for the event, which will recognize the $7 million renovation of the residence hall that was completed this summer. The event is open to the public, refreshments will be served and tours of the residence hall will follow the ceremony.
In addition to the $1 million bequest announced in 2010, Conley has financially supported the College in a variety of ways, donating more than $150,000 since the late 1990s, when she created and co-sponsored the biennial Francis J. Cheney Educational Issues Conference at SUNY Cortland. She named it after her grandfather, who was the Cortland Normal School principal from 1891 until his death in 1912.
The conference, held annually, brings influential and effective leaders in education to the campus to share their strategies for improving teacher education programs and the education of students from kindergarten through college.
Another initiative funded by Conley, the Francis J. Cheney Scholarship, provides $1,000 annually up to four years to admitted first-year students who are majoring in the area of education and who demonstrate the highest academic achievement and greatest financial need.
In 2004, she supported the College’s new Alumni House and funded the Louise McCarthy Conley Room, which encompasses the master bedroom as well as two adjoining rooms with a full-sized walk-in closet and a bathroom.
With her most recent gift, Conley will become the College’s first million-dollar donor who did not graduate from the institution. Her Cortland roots, however, run deep.
Her mother, Clara Cheney ’17, and her father, Rollin McCarthy ’16, both graduated from Cortland Normal School. They reunited a few years later while pursuing master’s degrees at Cornell University and were married in 1925. Her parents and both sets of grandparents are buried in Cortland cemetery next to the College.
Conley reconnected with the College in the 1990s when she read correspondence her father received from the Alumni Affairs Office regarding the reopening of Old Main. She attended events associated with the gala and savored the special place her grandfather occupies in SUNY Cortland’s history.
His leadership skills prompted Conley to designate her endowed chair to support SUNY Cortland’s Educational Leadership Department, one of four academic departments within the College’s School of Education. The department prepares educational leaders by effectively integrating theory and practice to develop schools and other learning communities.
The Educational Leadership program of study at SUNY Cortland is designed to satisfy the requirements of the Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration (CAS). By completing the program and passing the required New York State assessments, graduates are recommended by SUNY Cortland to the New York State Education Department for various educational leadership certifications.