Tom Flynn and Jerry Greiner Alvernia University President and Provost

Greiner and Flynn share views during the First Year Seminar reception featuring author Jamie Ford. The featured book was “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.”


 

The following is an excerpt from the Winter 2019 issue of the Alvernia magazine and is part of the #FlynnFriday series that celebrates President Tom Flynn for his 14 years of transformational leadership. 

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Thirty years ago, then a “baby dean” at Hamline University, I attended an American Association of Colleges and Universities’ session on new approaches to integrating general education throughout the undergraduate curriculum. Tom Flynn led that session and went on to become a nationally known figure in this movement. I rarely seek out presenters at meetings, but his compelling arguments aligned enough with my views that I approached and engaged him in a discussion. He invited me to dinner. Thus began an acquaintance that morphed over time—through professional experiences—into a deep friendship, filled with mutual respect and admiration. When I think back on it, ours is an unlikely friendship. We couldn’t be more different: he from Boston, I from a small, mid-west dairy farm. His entire extended family numbered six, mine much more than six dozen. Tom is the consummate sports fan, and I eschew sports unless they relate to my family or my university. I love to cook and build buildings, Tom boils water and is useless with tools or technology. But we share two enormous passions—pursuing excellence in higher education leadership and cherishing our families above all else. These two shared passions—coupled with our ability to be vulnerable and share raw feelings with each other—forged the framework of our friendship and the foundation for formal and mostly informal mutual consultation over these many years.

Tom’s move to provost at Millikin coincided with my increasing leadership roles at Hamline, so our interactions increased in frequency and depth. His leadership in reimagining enrollment management approaches to increase dramatically the number and diversity of students and faculty, upgrading athletic programs and facilities and launching a new division of student life and academic development—all created much fodder for our discussions.

I was thrilled when Tom was selected from within as Millikin’s president and was inspired by his thought-provoking pre-inauguration conference (a precursor to a similar set of activities when inaugurated at Alvernia). Tom thrived as president. He launched an ambitious comprehensive campaign with a goal of $75 million that was soon raised to $125 million, due to strong early success. The successful campaign financed four major building projects and endowments for student research, service learning, global studies and faculty development. It was during his presidency at Millikin that Tom honed skills on best practices in board governance, skills that he not only has used extensively at Alvernia, but also as a major player on the national scene as a consultant to other universities and higher education associations.

Following his successful presidency at Millikin, Tom spent three years working as a senior advisor to the Council of Independent Colleges and as a senior consultant to presidents and boards on a variety of topics, especially best practices in university governance. During these years, it became clear to Tom that he missed the presidency and that he wanted to find a place where his Catholic faith could be central to his daily work. I recall his initial enthusiasm about Alvernia, a place neither of us knew. How fortunate for Alvernia (and for Tom!) that he was selected as president.


 

Tom Flynn and Jerry Greiner Alvernia University

Flynn and Greiner review work of faculty during the book authors presentation and reception in November.


I remember my first visit to campus with Tom in 2005. We had already discussed the many challenges he would face with programs, people and finances. But when I saw the campus with the parking lot in the middle and the grounds looking a bit shabby, I remarked that he really had his work cut out for him! But Tom only saw opportunity and imagined what might be. He put together a good strategic planning team and set to work on putting “flesh” on the good “bones” that he saw. Whereas others downplayed the Franciscan and Catholic heritage, Tom elevated it and emphasized ethics and leadership as central to Alvernia’s future. Whereas others saw Reading and Berks County as disadvantages, Tom drooled at the opportunities for community engagement and service learning. And step by step, year by year, Tom has led the transformation of Alvernia from a sleepy local college to a thriving comprehensive regional university.

Having a good group of faculty and administrators and a supportive board have been instrumental to Tom’s success and Alvernia’s transformation. And as with any effective CEO, Tom has been fortunate to attract a terrific senior team.

“Tom’s multifaceted leadership has been transformative for Alvernia and for all who have had the privilege to learn, teach and otherwise strive in his company. I am humbly proud of and deeply grateful for our professional and personal association,” said Joseph Cicala, retired vice president for university life.

Doug Smith, vice president for administration and finance, credits Tom’s “excellent work with the Sisters and the board as major factors that led to the strong Franciscan identity and the steady, fast-paced development of new programs and facilities that have helped us not just survive but thrive in a difficult competitive environment.”

John McCloskey, vice president for enrollment management and university life, has assumed continually expanded responsibilities under Tom’s mentorship. “I am so grateful for the many opportunities Tom has given me to lead,” he said, “but I am even more grateful for his careful nurturing and guiding of my growth and development as a leader.”

Tom’s success as a leader can be traced to the very high standards that he has for himself and the people who work for him. “Tom is the most ‘exacting’ boss I have ever worked for. Every detail needs to be correct,” remarked Anthony DeMarco, vice president for institutional advancement. “Working for Tom Flynn has made me a better professional, a more strategic and organized executive and a more reflective, contemplative individual.”

Another factor in Tom’s success is his incredible ability to nurture relationships that led to his service on countless local and national boards, making Alvernia known to so many. Vice President for Marketing and Communications Deidra Hill said “In a very short time, I’ve learned a great deal from Tom about leadership and the importance of building relationships with people on and off campus. These relationships have served Alvernia well in increasing its reach and visibility beyond Berks County.” But the relationships have been about so much more than visibility. Tom’s relationships have brought people together to see a common vision and make dreams come true.

Tom and I have together relished successes and weathered setbacks during the past three decades. We have relied on our relationship for support and encouragement. It has been an honor and privilege to culminate my career working alongside my best male friend. I’m so glad he invited me to dinner 30 years ago.

-Jerry Greiner, Interim Provost, Alvernia University