Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Robert Conley, president of Union Institute, dies

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dr. Robert T. Conley, credited with the financial rescue of the Union Institute that he headed, died after an apparent heart attack Tuesday at his home.

        Dr. Conley, 67, of Blue Ash, had been president since 1982 of the Walnut Hills-based “university without walls.” —

        “The Union Institute family is in shock and mourning over this great loss,” Peter Hollister, Union Institute vice president for institutional advancement, said Tuesday night. “Bob was greatly admired for his leadership and personal efforts to enhance the academic reputation of the university.”

        Union Institute is a private university offering bachelor's and doctorate degrees. It was founded in 1964 by the presidents of 10 small colleges as the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities.

        Union students, most of whom are in their 30s and 40s, design their curriculum in conjunction with a faculty mentor. Students learn by working one-on-one with professors and communicate mainly by computer and phone.

        Dr. Conley is credited with guiding the Union Institute out of financial difficulty, increasing its enrollment and expanding its facilities.

        When he arrived, the university owed $1.5 million but had only $5,000 in the bank. By 1985, the debts were cleared and regional accreditation had been obtained. Enrollment climbed from fewer than 400 students to more than 2,200 today.

        Today, the university is a growing, five-city institution that's regarded in higher education circles as having helped to change the way traditional colleges teach adult students, even though Union remains relatively unknown in its hometown.

        “Bob changed the culture of the university profoundly,” Mark Rosenman, Union Institute vice president and director of its Office of Social Responsibility in Washington, said in 1997 as Dr. Conley prepared to mark his 15th anniversary as president.

        “I'm just a good fit here,” Dr. Conley said in 1997. “The university was academically sound. It was just undernourished.”

        One of Dr. Conley's lasting contributions was the establishment of the university's permanent home. With the acquisition and restoration of the Beau Brummel building and the Gruen Watch building, Dr. Conley created the university's “campus.”

        Dr. Conley received a bachelor's in chemistry from Seton Hall University in 1953, and a master's (1955) and doctorate (1957) in chemistry from Princeton University.

        Before moving to Union Institute, he was the first lay president of Seton Hall. Surviving are his wife, Doris; a son, Bryan Conley; two daughters, Debra Henderson Wand Robin Barbiea; and five grandchildren.

        Funeral arrangements are pending. The family requests contributions be made to the Robert T. Conley Scholarship Fund at the Union Institute.


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