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Kelly reflects on time as vice president

By : By Katie Ellis

Thomas F. Kelly will soon retire as vice president for external affairs. He plans to return to teaching.
Thomas Kelly was a dean at the age of 30 (at Wilkes College, now Wilkes University) and a vice president at Binghamton University by the age of 44. This month, he steps down from that vice presidential role to return to teaching in the School of Management.

As Binghamton’s longest-serving administrator at the dean’s level or higher, Kelly has seen a great deal of change since he arrived here as associate dean of the SOM in 1984. “When I came here, the campus had an excellent reputation, primarily in-state, for its quality undergraduate program,” he said. “Over the years, that reputation has grown beyond the northeastern United States to a national and international audience.

“We’ve added Ph.D.s and become much more of a doctoral research university and our facilities and enrollment have grown as well,” he added. “But most important is our self-perception. People on campus regard us as a well-known, strong, public undergraduate institution with a growing, respected graduate program.”

Along with the University’s growth has come a simultaneous need to increase fundraising. In 1984, less than $100,000 was raised annually. This year, projections look to exceed $17 million. In addition, the University’s endowment has grown from several million to $56 million since Kelly’s arrival.

“What we’ve tried to do is change the culture of philanthropy on campus,” Kelly said. “There’s real value in doing the fundraising and becoming engaged in developing and managing hundreds of relationships with people who have the ability to support the University.

“I think we were successful in changing the perception and getting people to embrace fundraising and incorporate it into how they meet their professional obligations,” he said.

Looking back on his administrative career, Kelly appreciates the opportunities he was given as a dean. “(As SOM dean) we were able to attain the initial accreditation of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), and at the same time develop a Ph.D. and get approval for it from SUNY,” he said. “We advanced technology, developed international programs and laid plans for what became Academic A.”

With those successes, accepting the position as vice president for external affairs was a difficult choice. “I thought long and hard about the decision, but it was an opportunity,” he said. “I knew I would miss working with faculty and students, particularly the international aspects, but I had done some development work at Wilkes and felt I could make a contribution.”

President Lois B. DeFleur credits Kelly with advancing the University throughout his career. “When I came to Binghamton in 1990 and began putting together my senior staff, Tom was one of the very first people recommended to me, and that decision was one of the best I’ve made as president,” she said. “He has been instrumental to our successes in advancement, and in gaining national and international recognition and visibility.

“Tom has been a valued member of my senior staff. I have always appreciated his wisdom, his vision, and especially his good humor and integrity.”

Kelly’s contributions have been many, with the successful completion of the University’s first comprehensive gifts campaign a year early and 21 percent over goal as a standout. “I’ve tried my whole life to treat people with respect and civility,” he said. “It’s part of my value system. I’m grateful to have been able to accomplish that to some degree.”

As the University prepares for its next campaign, Kelly will move back to the classroom to teach business ethics in the SOM. “I’m excited about teaching again and being in the classroom,” he said. “It’s what brought me to higher education in the first place and I’ve missed it.

“I think Binghamton has an extra quality of excellence among its faculty and staff and I continue to be proud of being part of Binghamton when I see the achievements and work ethic of others on campus. Anything we have achieved accrues as much to President DeFleur’s vision and leadership and to the excellence of my colleagues as to me.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08