Faculty Hall of Fame: Deborah F. Stanley
Deborah F. Stanley was a newly minted Syracuse University College of Law graduate with two young children in 1977 when she received a phone call from SUNY Oswego. The School of Business needed someone—in particular a female someone—to teach business law and help diversify the all-male faculty at the time. While it was a full-time, tenure-track position, Stanley initially saw it as an opportunity to help support her family while studying for the bar exam. Then she could practice law.
Or so she thought.
“I found my life’s work in teaching,” she said. “I loved it.”
And while she did pass the bar exam, became a licensed attorney and worked a few legal cases, she knew her true calling was in academia.
She threw herself into the life of the college, serving on faculty committees, advising and mentoring students and even serving as the advisor of the Alpha Delta Eta sorority.
“Right from the first day I walked on campus, I was being handed roles that were in addition to my teaching responsibilities. I was an attorney and was different from my other colleagues across campus,” she said. “I loved those roles. I got right into them. They were meaty. They were things I could wrestle with. I became very active in faculty governance.”
She also made connections with students—many of whom she would later work with in her role as president and several of whom donated toward an endowed fund to name the arena and convocation hall after her in October 2021.
Stanley said that in her role as professor, she tried to show that she cared about her students’ learning and their well-being.
“I hope that my interest in what they were doing and how they were doing allowed them to be more interested in themselves,” she said. “I would never say, nor believe, that the reason they succeeded had anything to do with anyone other than themselves. But the realization that other people notice you and were rooting for you, that elevates you. It gives you a reason to go on even through difficult circumstances.”
She said she loved teaching and being a professor, but another unsolicited phone call a few days before Christmas in 1988 would provide another shift in her career path.
That was when newly appointed college President Stephen Weber asked her to become the executive assistant to the president, and help bridge the chasm between faculty and administration on campus.
“He wanted someone who was faculty with a capital F, and I was very involved with faculty governance,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about administration, but from the perch of the president’s office with a president who was very generous in allowing me to be part of everything that went on, I learned.”
Within five years, she went on to be named interim provost of the college in 1994, and then was named interim president in 1995 and officially assumed the role of president in 1997.
“I could have taken many paths, but being in the academy has allowed me to immerse myself in an endeavor that is greater than my personal achievements,” she said. “Being connected to, and integral to the achievements, goals and life-planning of so many people as they begin their adulthood has been just amazing. That atmosphere is permeated by excitement and possibilities, and being a part of that has made everything so much more rich in my life.”