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Million-Dollar Bequest Creates First Endowed Chair

 Million-Dollar Bequest Creates First Endowed Chair


Louise M. Conley, Ph.D., of Princeton, N.J., a member of the Cortland College Foundation Board of Directors, has bequeathed $1 million to SUNY Cortland to create its first endowed academic chair.

The naming of the award was approved by the State University of New York Board of Trustees during its meeting on March 23 at SUNY College of Optometry in Manhattan. The bequest marks the third million-dollar gift by an individual received by SUNY Cortland in as many months in 2010.

“We are deeply honored that the first endowed chair at SUNY Cortland was created by the granddaughter of Dr. Francis J. Cheney, the second principal (president) of the Cortland Normal School whose leadership and vision helped to shape the direction of this institution during its formative years,” said SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum.

“Once the resources become available to the College, the Louise M. Conley Chair in Educational Leadership will provide a SUNY Cortland faculty member in the Educational Leadership Department with additional funds to support his or her research, teaching, student assistants or in fulfilling departmental initiatives,” explained Raymond D. Franco, vice president for institutional advancement at SUNY Cortland.

Franco estimates that the endowed chair will generate between $40,000-$50,000 annually for its recipient, adding that the funds are not to be used for salaries.

“This is a time-honored tradition in college and universities but within SUNY it is unusual to have an endowed chair,” added Franco. “Dr. Conley’s gift demonstrates the power of private philanthropy and how it can strengthen and support the College in the pursuit of its academic mission.”

In addition to this $1 million gift in her will, Conley, a licensed psychologist, has financially supported SUNY Cortland with more than $150,00 dating back to 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 four conferences held between 1999 and 2005 brought 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 freshmen 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.

While Conley is the College’s first million-dollar donor who did not graduate from the institution, her Cortland roots admittedly run very deep.

“I heard about Cortland Normal School all my life because both of my parents went there and my grandfather was the head of it,” Conley explained. “It was an integral part of my parents’ early education. They very much valued the quality of the education they received there.”

Her mother, Clara Cheney ’17, and her father, Rollin McCarthy ’16, both graduated from Cortland Normal. 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.

Although she had only visited Cortland once with her father and again with both parents in 1984 for her sister’s burial, 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 occupied in SUNY Cortland’s history.

“I had an admiration for him through my mother because he died when my mother was 12,” explained Conley. “I knew only of him through my mother’s eyes. But reading more about him, I learned that he did an excellent job of leading the school and moving it forward. He was an effective organizer during his 21 years there. He was a very good liaison between Cortland Normal and the town.”

His leadership skills prompted Conley to designate her endowed chair toward 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.

“I wanted to be able to emphasize the value of high quality administration in education,” concluded Conley.

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.