Tom Healy's remarkable career at UNF has as much to do with a well-timed bottle of beer as any extensive planning on his part.
Healy can still recall the day he was having a beer in the backyard of one of his professors at the University of Maryland where he was completing his dissertation for a doctorate in educational administration. While he, another graduate student and the professor were having a discussion, the professor received a call from Andrew Robinson, who at the time was the assistant dean of the College of Education at UNF. Robinson was looking for someone to teach in the master's program in educational administration at a new university in Jacksonville. When Robinson asked the professor if he knew anyone interested in such a job, he responded "wait just a minute, I've got someone drinking beer in my backyard who might be interested," Healy recalls.
At the time, Healy was considering three jobs, at Syracuse University, Frostburg State in Maryland or St. Cloud State in Minnesota. He wasn't even considering Florida and in fact thought Jacksonville was on the Gulf Coast.
But the phone call started Healy down a path which has taken him through more job challenges than just about anyone else in UNF history. He accepted the job at UNF with the idea he would stay a few years and return north. The attraction wasn't the weather as much as it was an opportunity to develop a master's level program which he had assumed would not be possible until after many years of teaching experience. He had started his career in Rochester, Minn. as an elementary school teacher and later taught at Winona State University before going to the University of Maryland for his doctorate.
Once at UNF, he taught for seven years and then became the director of the Downtown Center in 1978. He took that responsibility with him when he became the dean of Continuing Education and External Affairs in 1979, a position he held until 1983.
In the following years, Healy held assistant and associate vice president positions in Academic Affairs and University Relations. He also was interim vice president for Student Affairs, for University Relations and for Administration and Finance and served a stint as athletic director. Some of his jobs overlapped with his duties as director of Governmental Affairs. For several years, he held three jobs at the same time, a distinction which he admits he does not regret losing. He was named vice president for Governmental Affairs last year.
The many changes have been good for Healy, who describes himself as someone with a short attention span anyway, and good for the University as well. The jobs have also given Healy an excellent perspective on the most significant changes to occur at UNF.
Without hesitation, Healy says the most significant change for UNF came in 1984 with the decision to admit freshmen and sophomore students. "None of us who fought for this for several years had any idea of the impact this would eventually have on the University."
With students spending four years on campus, living in residence halls, getting involved in athletics and other activities, Healy says they began to identify with the University. "They became our most effective recruiting tool and we began to grow at the rate of 5 to 7 percent a year."
Because UNF was initially limited to only 100 freshmen students, minimum admission requirements were very high. Healy says this imposed a quality standard at UNF which remains to this day and has helped to bolster the University's image in the community.
Healy can speak with authority about the University's image in the community since he has been so involved in civic activities. He has had major roles in a number of organizations including The Players Championship, the Cecil Field Development Commission, Volunteer Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Community Council, Inc.
As for the future, Healy sees two main issues for UNF. The first is the role of technology and distance learning. "No one is quite sure how it will affect us. It can make us much more efficient, but at what cost? How much of an education involves live interaction with faculty and small groups?"
The second issue is continued growth. "You reach a certain point as you continue to grow, where it is much more difficult to provide small classes and personal attention. We have to fight very hard to protect that and not grow to such an extent that we can no longer provide that kind of education," he says.