|November 16, 2005|
Next president sees Union as a 'remarkable innovator'
President-elect Stephen C. Ainlay gives remarks in Memorial Chapel
It was not just the remarkable weather during Stephen C. Ainlay's recent trips to campus that drew him to the presidency of Union College.
It was the fact that the College is "giving new meaning to the word 'union.'
"Union has, throughout its history, been a remarkable innovator in higher education," he said. "That fact is well known out there among all of us who to pay attention to higher education.
"Union has masterfully combined a commitment to the liberal arts and a commitment to innovation."
With the sun streaming in behind him in Memorial Chapel, hundreds gathered in pews before him and the portraits of past presidents looking on, Union's president-elect greeted members of the Union College community on Wednesday morning, Nov. 16. It was the first public opportunity for faculty, staff and students to meet the man who will assume the presidency in June.
Ainlay comes to Union from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where he is vice president for academic affairs and professor of sociology and anthropology. He holds a distinguished record as a teacher, scholar and administrator.
"From the first time we met Stephen Ainlay, we knew we had someone special," said Frank Messa '73, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, who introduced the College's 18th president. "We have a leader who is going to join us at a very exciting and critical time in our school's history."
Eschewing the lectern and microphone to speak informally from the front of the stage, Ainlay joked about upstate winters, his mother's reaction to Union's glowing press accounts of him ("Who are they talking about?") and being surrounded by stern presidential portraiture that seemed to whisper, "Don't mess up."
He thanked James Underwood, interim president and professor emeritus of political science, for his service to the College and his help throughout the transition.
"I feel very fortunate to be here," Ainlay said. "A lot of people ask, 'Why Union?' Union has for its entire history been a remarkable innovator in higher education. You've combined a commitment to liberal arts while finding ways of making that liberal education pertinent to the world that faculty, staff, administrators and most of all, students, live in.
"One of the biggest problems we have as a culture and as a society is the problem of integration," he said, noting that in our increasingly fragmented society, "institutions like Union have the opportunity to provide integration in the face of that fragmentation."
Ainlay cited the College's hallmarks – Undergraduate Research, Converging Technologies, International Studies, Minervas and Community Service – as ways that the College is fostering integration.
"What you are screaming to the outside world is that 'union' is possible in the modern world," he said. "You have retained the spirit of the best of liberal education and are giving new meaning to these pillars." For example, the Minervas demonstrate that "the social and intellectual truly can occupy the same space."
Ainlay said the College's $200 million "You are Union" campaign is about more than bringing in important resources. "It's an opportunity to unite with constituencies outside the campus – alumni, friends and benefactors who care deeply about the College."
Stephen Ainlay greets Susan Rinaldi, computer information specialist, during campus visit
He also cited the College's efforts to promote diversity. "Union has the opportunity to share this wonderful education with an even broader spectrum of individuals and thereby enrich the campus culture here in important ways."
And he spoke of using continuing education to keep alumni connected with the College's intellectual life.
"In the end, it's not just about the reputation of this institution," he said. "It's about providing leadership to higher education. From where I stand today, it's clear we have the opportunity to make Union more meaningful, to continue the rich tradition of innovation that has made a mark on the past."
Following his talk, Ainlay spoke with individual audience members before meeting with other members of the Union community on campus.
A native of Indiana, Ainlay earned his bachelor's degree in sociology from Goshen College and both his master's and Ph.D. from Rutgers University. He is married to Judith Gardner Ainlay, and they have two sons, Jesse, a 2005 graduate of Holy Cross, and Jonathan, a University of Arizona student.
For the announcement about Ainlay's appointment, visit: http://www.union.edu/newpresident/