Union in the News for October 26, 2005
Scholar to lead Union College
By Kennieth Aaron - The Times Union
SCHENECTADY -- Union College has tapped a College of the Holy Cross veteran administrator and professor to be its 18th president.
Stephen C. Ainlay, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the Worcester, Mass., college will take the reins at Union in June.
Ainlay will succeed Roger Hull, who served 15 years as president before stepping down in the spring. James Underwood, professor emeritus of political science, has been interim president.
Ainlay, 54, has been at Holy Cross since 1982, when he arrived as an assistant professor of sociology. He has spent essentially his entire academic career there.
"I've reached a point in my career where I felt I had something yet to offer by way of presidential leadership," Ainlay said late Tuesday afternoon.
Union -- with initiatives such as the Minerva house system, where students and faculty interact, and its Converging Technologies program, which involves mixing engineering and the liberal arts -- felt like a good fit, tying closely into his own research interests, he said.
It felt like a good fit to the school, too.
"It was literally a unanimous choice," said Frank Messa, a Union trustee and chairman of the presidential search committee.
While the names of the three finalists were never disclosed, some of those who met Ainlay during the search process hailed his selection.
"I asked him what it means to him to be an academic leader," said Therese McCarty, Union's interim dean of faculty. "He said he wants to be an intellectual presence on campus. He wants to show students what it means to be academically alive and excited by doing that himself."
Ainlay arrived at Holy Cross in 1982 as an assistant professor of sociology. His research explores how people find meaning in their lives, a theme explored in several books and publications. His last book, "Mennonite Entrepreneurs," looks at how members of that community assess their success in a community that does not approve of material gains.
"The fundamental question I'm interested in is how people make sense of it all," Ainlay said.
Ainlay declined to disclose his salary at Union. While he will not start work until next year, he said he expects to start meeting people on campus soon. "The first thing I'm going to do, which I think any president ought to do, is become the anthropologist," he said.
Landing an academic was a paramount desire, Messa said, and boosting the campus' academic reputation will be one of Ainlay's biggest tasks.
"We feel we are not adequately viewed by the rest of the world for our academic excellence," Messa said. "We very much feel that we are a better academic institution than we are recognized as being."
The Rev. Michael C. McFarland, Holy Cross' president, said Ainlay helped bolster that institution's reputation.
"He understands and he's passionately committed to liberal arts education," McFarland said. "He's a first-rate academic himself. He's been a great leader of the faculty and an advocate for our strength in academics."
Steve Ciesinski, chairman of Union's board of trustees, said Roger Hull had a lot of strengths -- but that being tapped into a national network of academics wasn't one of them.
"All of our final candidates were chief academic officers," he said. Ainlay, besides holding the top academic job at Holy Cross, is also involved with several professional groups, such as the American Conference of Academic Deans, officials said.
Ciesinski, who spent time with Ainlay in Worcester, said one of the things that impressed him was that Ainlay was an "excellent listener" who was able to pay close attention to people.
"He's a good thinker and he thinks about the larger picture, and he thinks about how smaller things should or should not fit into the larger picture," he said.