Thomas A. Conley, Ballot Position No. 5
Pilot, U.S. Air Force, District of Columbia National Guard
Read Conley’s official bio and position statement here (PDF download).
1. What should Penn State be looking for in its next president?
Selecting Penn State’s next president is an undertaking as important as overhauling our Board. The reason for the need is similar in both instances: to solidify and promote Penn State as one of the top universities worldwide. Being the top means many things, starting with creating an environment where student learning and leadership are the University’s priorities. To establish Penn State as an academic leader, the next president best can serve the University community if he or she is most celebrated for his or her academic achievements. While the president position does require savvy political and fundraising know-how, the new hire can stay on track to celebrate Penn State’s academic leadership if he or she first has earned those honors as an individual. With a president previously concentrating his or her own career in academia, he or she will be able to lead the University in that same vein. Trust is another benchmark on which candidates will be measured. As a pilot for our nation’s First Lady, Speaker of the House and four-star generals, I know what it takes to develop the highest level of public trust. I look forward to welcoming University leadership with unquestionable character and aptitude. At many academically-celebrated, well-rounded institutions, learning takes place beyond the classroom, library or lab, just as it does at Penn State. But at Penn State we need to change the tone to place learning first. In a culture of academic excellence, generations of leaders start as learners.
2. What changes or reforms should the Board of Trustees consider to help the university progress after the events of 2011 and 2012? Please explain why—or, if you don’t think reform is needed, please explain why not.
Since the crisis, each decision the Board makes is subject to immense criticism. One of the Board’s most grievous errors was a lack of transparency in its operations that thus carried throughout the University. My years in the military have taught me that you’re only as good as your reputation. While students and alumni worldwide will play a necessary and genuine role in rebuilding our reputation, the tone set by the Board is also vital to the University’s future. A key component of our transformation is reinforcing the University’s integrity. This applies certainly to supporting those affected by the tragic crimes committed. It also applies to helping us move forward as a University, working toward prevention and beginning to heal the whole community. Trustees need to lead with an educated mind, and with a courageous, compassionate heart. Previous Board members may have failed to protect those most vulnerable, and then acted rashly to cover up their own misguidance. That cannot be tolerated. As the Board works to rebuild itself to one of transparence and integrity, then so too can the whole atmosphere of Penn State. My commitment to engaging young adults in rebuilding the credibility of public institutions like Penn State led me to co-found the Public Service Pledge. Core principles of the Public Service Pledge include the Integrity, Courage, Empathy and Responsibility of our public leaders. These are the same tenets I will follow once elected as trustee. For more information, please visit www.conley4psu.com.
3. How do you define the role of an alumni trustee, and how would that inform the way you would approach your term on the board?
The role of an alumni trustee is in the name. It means that elected trustees listen to their alumni constituents, and take their views into consideration, when formulating their own opinions on which to vote and act. It’s a serious responsibility, especially with our critical need to solidify and promote ourselves as a top university worldwide. It’s also a role I will be honored to accept. I am one of the younger candidates, which lends additional value to my election and service. My time as a student leader is relatively fresh. I realistically know the demands on new and upcoming graduates in terms of starting our careers and improving our communities once we leave the gates of Old Main. Building on the need for transparency for the Board and across the University, I plan to make myself accessible as a trustee. I will have an online presence that serves as an open line of communication, where alumni can complete surveys and write emails to provide feedback and express concerns regarding critical issues. There’s no doubt that alumni views are widely diverse, but’s it’s essential that I hear them to guide me as a trustee. I also plan to reinforce the Alumni Association’s “Ideas for Action”—reminding alumni that they do not need to serve on the Board to make a difference. As a trustee, I will help alumni learn ways they can volunteer, advocate and give—as as we all work to rise up Penn State once again.