Meet Mount Aloysius College President, Thomas P. Foley, J.D.
On August 1, 2010, Thomas P Foley, JD, became the thirteenth president of Mount Aloysius College. The unanimous selection of Dr. Foley brought to a close what Chair of the Board of Trustees, Daniel W. Rullo, described as “an exhaustive national search that yielded over 50 highly qualified applicants.”
President Foley grew up in Flourtown, PA (in Montgomery County), the third of twelve children born to Jack and Angela Foley. Dr. Foley jokes that throughout his professional career he has never needed to consult a focus group because “I was born into one.” He cites the value that his parents and siblings placed on hard work, leadership, and service as the defining influence of his life.
Growing up, Foley showed a passion for both competitive sports and for the life of the mind. He was the only student in his high school to compete on both the football and the debating teams. President Foley received a full scholarship to Dartmouth College, where he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in government. He then taught at Bates College in Maine before entering Yale Law School. While earning his Juris Doctoris at Yale, he served as an editor of the school’s prestigious Journal of World Public Order, as coach of the undergraduate debate team, and as a member of the university’s championship rugby team.
It was during a sabbatical from Yale that President Foley experienced what he regards as a seminal educational experience of his life. For two years he was a volunteer in Northern Ireland during the “Troubles”--a time of sectarian violence and virtual civil war. As Foley notes, “I never served in a war, but I spent two years living in the middle of one.” During that time he worked with the Nobel Prize winning Peace People—a group dedicated to the non-violent reconciliation of the community. Foley served as the group’s counsel, co-founded the still-active Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), and initiated the award-winning integrated sports program. It was this experience that cemented Foley’s commitment to service and helped to shape his professional career.
Tom Foley’s long career of public service began in Washington where he served in both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. On Capitol Hill he served as legislative aide and counsel, first to Rep. James Shannon and later to then Sen. Joseph Biden. He later received a White House appointment as Regional Representative for the U.S. Secretary of Labor. His government service continued in the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, whom he served in two cabinet level posts, including as the youngest Secretary of Labor and Industry in the history of the Commonwealth.
In the decade before coming to Mount Aloysius, President Foley moved to leadership positions in the non-profit sector, heading two of the state’s largest non-profits. He served as President of the United Way of Pennsylvania until 2004 and as CEO of the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania immediately before coming to Mount Aloysius.
Throughout his career, President Foley has continued his education. He was a graduate fellow at University College Dublin and a student in both the Executive Leadership Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government
and the Program for Non-Profit Management at the Harvard Business School. He has also continued to write, and is the author of over 75 articles, op-ed, and journal pieces on a variety of topics including issues relating to work, job training, community service, and public security. He has testified on public policy over 30 times in Washington and Harrisburg, has appeared frequently on TV and radio, and has keynoted numerous events in several states and in Northern Ireland. He has chaired eight statewide Boards and Commissions, including the Governor’s Task Force on Workforce Development, PennSERVE, and the State Board of Vocational Rehabilitation.
President Foley recently sat down for an interview to discuss his plans for Mount Aloysius College.
Meet Mount Aloysius College President, Thomas P. Foley, J.D.
What was your initial impression of Mount Aloysius?
I used the internet to look up everything I could about Mount Aloysius prior to my initial visit. I was immediately impressed by how the sense of mission penetrated every aspect of the College. In every area I researched, I saw manifest the four key words: mission, service, justice, and hospitality. I came to understand that mission is the lifeblood of the College; it’s everywhere. Of course, I was also struck by the natural beauty of the College’s setting in the green hills of the Allegheny Mountains and by the growth and vibrancy of the campus as well. At the time of my first visit, I met an adjunct professor who was also a Mount Aloysius graduate from 1991. He pointed to the Cosgrave Student Center and said, “The end of that building was the end of the campus when I was a student here.”
On my first day of work, I had visits from six Sisters of Mercy: Sister Benedict Joseph, Sister Eric Marie, Sister Helen Marie, Sister Nancy, Sister Charlene, and Sister Giuseppe. They all told me that they were praying for me to carry on the mission of Mount Aloysius College. By the sixth visit, I started to wonder what I was doing wrong that required so many prayers. In all seriousness, their example of self-sacrifice, evident in every fiber of this institution, makes me even more determined not to let them down. They are truly the “endowment” of this College.
What do you look forward to doing as President that you have not had the opportunity to do in any of your former careers?
The single most significant opportunity is the chance to impact the lives of young people, and to do so in a lifelong way. I’ve had positions where I was able to positively impact a lot of lives, but I’ve never done so at such a critical juncture in a person’s life. We are not only focusing on giving a quality education but we want to be sure our students are job-ready when they graduate in two or four years. Another unique opportunity for me is to speak to them about how to lead a life and how to engage their communities when they leave Mount Aloysius. I find that very appealing. I am also looking forward to spending some time thinking and writing about Mount Aloysius College and about the approach to education that we take at this institution. I think, over time, that this College will become a model that other institutions use as higher education focuses more on “value” and “values.” It amazes me that the highest tuition we charge, including room and board, is under $29,000. Having three sons who attended private colleges, I know the competition, and I know how great a value we offer. But, I have also witnessed how values are integrated, not only into the curriculum, but also in the way that people of our community relate to each other.
What is the President’s job?
- To maintain our academic strength. Intellectual vigor and rigor are at the heart of what Mount Aloysius College is about. We need to maintain the standard we have reached and move that standard even higher.
- To be actively engaged in key areas of the administration of the College: enrollment, institutional advancement, and mission integration.
- To manage the budget. To ensure that we have the resources that we need and that we are managing them as appropriately and as effectively as we can.
- To pursue larger strategic issues with the Board of Trustees and with appropriate groups within the College. To engage key players both in the community and at the College to develop the vision needed to propel Mount Aloysius into the future.
- To serve as an ambassador for the institution. This can happen in a variety of ways: from speaking to Chambers, Rotaries, and other service clubs; to meeting with local, state, and federal officials; to engaging with prospective students and their families; to interacting with alumni and friends of Mount Aloysius College.
- To provide strong, visible, and sustaining leadership to the entire College community.
What has occupied your time since you began your Presidency?
I spent time early on meeting with every staff and faculty member in all the different areas that make up our College community. I’ve met with groups as small as seven and with some as large as thirty to discuss what it is that is special about Mount Aloysius, what they would like the College to look like in ten years, and what the issues are in the next five years for higher education and the College.
I also try to visit with our team in their actual workplaces, and to see our faculty and students at work and play—in classrooms and lunchrooms, at theater and music productions, on athletic fields and in community service activities. I don’t want to get in their way when they are working (or playing), but I want to see where they are and what they do (and to help out where I can—guest photographer on one occasion!). I’ve also spoken to all of our Board of Trustees and have visited many of them at their places of work to get their thoughts on the past, present, and future of Mount Aloysius college. And I am now a student myself, auditing an arts class, where I mold clay twice a week with fifteen undergrads!
Finally, I’m beginning the process of community engagement–both in a formal and an informal way as well as in announced and anonymous ways. Michele and I have both volunteered in local service activities since we came here and we’ve also enjoyed everything from church carnivals to county fairs—and many other local events. We hope to continue this recipe for engagement going forward.
Any thoughts to share about your predecessor?
Gratitude…humility; I am in awe of Sister Mary Ann Dillon. As I move around the community, I’ve been showing a PowerPoint presentation of “before” (Mary Ann) and “after” (Mary Ann) pictures of the college–and they reveal in dramatic detail the tremendous growth and maturing of the institution during the thirteen years when she and Sister Ginny were at the helm. And that covers only the physical changes. The commitment to excellence, the attention to detail, and the integration of mission are both hallmarks and legacies of Sister Mary Ann’s tenure. And, of course, she has been just so personally generous to Michele and to me in the course of the transition.
What do you think about when you walk across the campus?
I’m actually always looking for people to say hello to along the way—part of my own personal campaign for civility in our daily and public lives. I think about how far this college has come in relatively short periods of time—157 years, 71 years, 20 years, 13 years. It is quite an amazing journey. I think of the faculty, the staff, and the many Sisters of Mercy who made that journey and the wonderful legacy of their hard work. I see the grandeur of these mountains and their power and it makes me feel all the possibilities of this campus: all we have to offer now and all things still to be dreamed.