Over 21 years at UC, he has always tried to bring some of the best of those small-scale qualities to his students at a major 33,000-student public university.
"It’s energizing to interact with 20-somethings who have questions and opinions that are challenging," says Tolley, a professor of political science at UC and a 2005 winner of the George B. Barbour Award for Good Faculty-Student Relations. "I have sought to replicate at a big urban university the kind of small college experience that I had as an undergraduate and in my former teaching career."
Before coming to UC, Tolley was on the faculty for 12 years at Wilberforce University.
At Wilberforce and at UC, he has always been willing to get involved with student projects and show a level of commitment that extends far beyond the door of the classroom.
"Howard’s commitment to students both in and out of class is evident from the crowds of students in his office for Political Science Student Association (PSSA) meetings, planning sessions for the annual departmental awards dinner and debate preparations for upcoming Model U.N. competitions," says Laura Dudley Jenkins, associate professor of political science. "I know the magnitude of his commitment because my office is next to his."
Adds Jim Masterson, a master’s student in political science and president of the Graduate Student Governance Association: "I can think of no other faculty member with whom I have come in contact in my nine years at the University of Cincinnati both as an undergraduate and graduate student who is more deserving of the Barbour Award than Professor Tolley."
Among the small school traditions that Tolley has brought to UC is the scheduling of a social open house at his residence at the end of each quarter. Tolley fondly remembers the faculty advisor of his college newspaper opening his home to Tolley.
"I have gone twice, and it is always a pleasure," says senior political science major Merisa Bowers. "Professor Tolley and his wife kindly provide a warm environment for students to mingle. Since UC is such a large institution, students are less likely to have a relationship with each other outside of class. Through the Tolleys, we get to know our peers and our professor and subsequently develop a stronger relationship with each other."
"I keep trying to build bridges that get us out of our silos," Tolley says.
To that end, he has been willing to support students in extracurricular activities, and he has worked diligently to create linkages to other departments and colleges for the political science students.
He arrived at UC in 1984 and has been the advisor to PSSA since 1986.
Tolley has helped the students become involved with creating a Model U.N. program that attends national competitions, including one last year that was held at the actual U.N. headquarters in New York. When funding for travel became an issue several years ago for a number of members, Tolley helped lobby to create a new grant program that was earmarked specifically for intercollegiate academic groups.
Caroline Hyatt, treasurer of the Political Science Students Association, says that when her group ran into funding problems this year, Tolley attended meetings of the Undergraduate Funding Board (UFB) and the Student Advisory Committee on the University Budget with her "to try to explain the problems we were encountering and to propose possible alternatives to the current funding measures. He is very dedicated and involved, even as he takes on more responsibilities."
On the academic front, Tolley has just this year spearheaded efforts to create an International Human Rights Certificate program and helped establish a joint degree program in law and political science with the UC College of Law.
Bob Fee, senior assistant dean for Student Affairs in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, believes Tolley has made a career out of demonstrating the learning that can take place outside the classroom and library. "The new International Human Rights Certificate is a demonstration of how Dr. Tolley unites students’ learning with the concerns of the real world," Fee says.
Beyond his student involvement, Tolley has been heavily involved in service to the university, including using his dual background in political science and law to help advise and inform a number of committees working on university student governance issues.
"The recognition of his commitment to students in not only appropriate, but long overdue," says Richard Harknett, associate professor of political science.
With that sentiment widely shared throughout the political science department, it made for a festive scene in April when notification came that Tolley had been selected as a Barbour Award winner.
While he was beginning a human rights class of 60 students, the door suddenly opened and in came more students along with about a half-dozen faculty members of the department. They broke the news and "the students stood and applauded. It left me speechless at the beginning of a class," Tolley joked. "As I said later in my notes of appreciation, (winning this) is the high point of my 21 years at UC."