You may no longer find him cruising the Storrs campus in his Corvette or taking a jog in a UConn track suit with his former running partner, Jim Calhoun. But after having dedicated 31 years to UConn as an administrator, professor, dean, and University president, Harry Hartley remains a Husky through and through.
At his home in Palm Beach, Fla., Hartley, now 77, has lined the walls of his foyer and office – all the way up to the ceiling – with UConn memorabilia, from the large framed photograph of him beaming as he greets President Bill Clinton during the 1995 dedication of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center to the snapshot of him at Horsebarn Hill, standing proudly alongside UC Harry H, the Morgan horse named years ago in his honor. Many mornings, Hartley still opts to suit up in his UConn track gear.
The last dean to be hired by former UConn President Homer Babbidge, Hartley first arrived on the Storrs campus in 1972. He recalls the afternoon he first met Babbidge, who turned up late for their interview, hair windblown, explaining that he had been delayed by the campus’ annual turtle race, in which his turtle – named, ironically, Search Committee – had failed to leave the starting line.
“I thought, ‘I’m really out of New York now,’” laughs Hartley, who had been living in the decidedly more fast-paced Manhattan, serving as an associate dean at New York University. Although he had no Connecticut roots, the Storrs campus reminded him of his days as Penn State, where he had earned his doctorate. “I felt at home,” he says – an impression strong enough to keep him at UConn for more than three decades.
‘The Value of Education’
When the UConn Foundation announced its $150 million student-support fundraising initiative this past year, Hartley’s longstanding sense of devotion to the University prompted him to lead the charge. Through a planned bequest, Hartley has designated a gift of $250,000 in support of undergraduate and graduate scholarship specifically for students in UConn’s Neag School of Education. The gift will be made in his name and in that of his wife, Dianne.
“My parents were both teachers, so I’ve always seen the value of education,” Hartley says. “And if we can turn out better teachers, better administrators, counselors, et cetera, I think it’s a net benefit to the state of Connecticut and to the country.”
The scholarship initiative – which seeks to keep a UConn education affordable and, through merit and need scholarships, attract more high-achieving students – also resonated with Hartley on another level.
Raised in a steel community outside Pittsburgh, Hartley had been aware even from a young age of how financial constraints could limit one’s career options.
“You either worked in a steel mill all your life or, if you were an athlete, you’d get a scholarship that would put you into a college. But not every student has the athletic ability to earn a scholarship,” he says. “So I saw a great need for financial assistance way back then for students who couldn’t afford to go to college.”
With his $250,000 scholarship gift on behalf of the Neag School, Hartley is now looking forward to supporting students who need financial assistance at UConn. Plans are in the works for a special celebratory campus visit from Hartley and his wife this summer.
“We’re investing in people, and I think it has a great return,” he says.
Making the Pitch
Money makes a big difference, Hartley likes to say – and he should know this better than most. In addition to having served as dean of UConn’s School of Education, as vice president for finance and administration under three different UConn presidents, and for many years as a professor of educational leadership – including up until his retirement in 2003 – Hartley has gone down in University history as the UConn president who successfully fought for the 1995 passage of UConn 2000, the 10-year, $1 billion program to rebuild and renew the University’s infrastructure across each of its campuses.
“There were times when I was apprehensive that the request was too much, when Connecticut had no tradition of supporting its state university,” Hartley says.
Adding to the challenge of passing such a groundbreaking bill was the fact that Storrs had the least amount of political representation of any UConn campus. “Even though it’s the main campus, we only had one or two legislators,” he says. “So, politically, you had to make sure you had something in the plan for every campus.”
Hartley and his team campaigned heavily across Connecticut, meeting with legislators and alumni, explaining the benefits of the billion-dollar program to campuses statewide. In his arguments before the legislature, Hartley says it was important to show that Connecticut was, at the time, losing its best and brightest students. “They weren’t coming to UConn – and where they were going to school was where they’d end up living,” he says. “So I had to make the pitch that if Connecticut was going to be great, we had to keep them here.”
As luck would have it, the UConn women’s basketball team won its first national championship that spring. Hartley recalls introducing legislators in Hartford to the two basketball teams’ captains – Rebecca Lobo and Kevin Ollie. “They both spoke from the heart about how UConn badly needed new facilities [in order to recruit the best student-athletes],” Hartley says. “That played a key role in starting to switch the political support.”
Years later, the level of transformation the University has undergone since the passage of UConn 2000 is no surprise to the president emeritus.
“I’m looking back at all the promises I made to the legislature when we were fighting for UConn 2000: that we’d raise the SAT scores if they funded us, that the quality of applicants would be much greater, that the financial contributions to the University would be greater, that our partnerships with state industries and companies would be great, that it would lift the general quality of life in the state – if only they could see it as an investment and not an expense,” he says.
“I take pride in what we achieved,” he adds. “I had a wonderful team. Looking back, I would’ve tried to assemble the same kind of team.” He pauses, smiling. “I can’t think of anything major that I would’ve done differently – maybe worn a tuxedo around campus instead of a warm-up suit.”