|September 16, 2006|
Stephen C. Ainlay inaugurated as Union's 18th President
Asserting that Union College is "well-hewn to make a difference in our time," Stephen C. Ainlay was formally installed as the College's 18th president in a ceremony today.
Ainlay reflected on the many educational innovations that were born at Union, one of the nation's oldest colleges, and the long line of notable graduates, including U.S. President Chester Arthur, Gordon Gould (inventor of the laser) and George Westinghouse.
"Because of its history, Union must be more self-conscious and self-critical about what it does,'' Ainlay said in his inaugural address to an overflow crowd of more than 900 attendees in Memorial Chapel. "Because of its history, Union must set the bar of accountability high. Because of its history, Union has an obligation to lead as it confronts today's educational challenges. And similarly, Union students and graduates, too, have a responsibility to be more self-conscious and self-critical, to hold themselves to a high standard and to make a difference in the world they inhabit."
Ainlay, 55, said the College was well-positioned to confront today's challenges, including fragmentation "in a world marked by conflict and misunderstanding."
"Education at its best has the potential to play a key strategic role in counteracting polarization by emphasizing the value of dialogue, helping students understand difference without reducing it to "a matter of perspective" and celebrating mutual respect," he said. "This ethos – a commitment to a common educational cause despite difference – must animate our educational endeavor today. If not higher education, where? If not a school called ‘Union,' what college or university?"
It's also critical to prepare students for the challenges engendered by globalism, Ainlay said, by building upon Union's 212-year history of providing a solid liberal arts education.
"We will need to draw on this ethos of innovation and instill it in our students as we try to meet the demand for individuals who are capable of imagining solutions well outside prescribed ways of thinking,'' he said. "But be assured of one thing: Union is indeed well-hewn to make a difference in our time.''
Citing Union alumnus William Seward (Class of 1820), Ainlay emphasized the need to educate men and women who will be engaged citizens, bound to high ethical standards and willing to place personal interests second to the common good. Seward expected to get the Republican nomination for President in 1860, but was crushed when he was passed over in favor of Abraham Lincoln, in part because some feared his opposition to slavery made him unelectable.
Yet Seward overcame his disappointment and campaigned tirelessly for his former political foe, and eventually accepted Lincoln's offer to be Secretary of State. He became one of Lincoln's most trusted advisers, and is credited with helping shape Lincoln's position on slavery, which led to the Emancipation Proclamation.
"We must find ways of getting in students' way, creating space for them to think about the very meaning of the common good, what it means to submit to a cause that transcends personal ambition," Ainlay said. "If not possible in a place in the shadow of William Seward, then where?"
The former vice president for academic affairs and professor of sociology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Ainlay assumed the presidency at Union July 1. He succeeds Roger Hull, who served 15 years before stepping down in June 2005. James Underwood, professor emeritus of political science, served as interim president last academic year.
During Saturday's ceremony, William R. Brody, the president of Johns Hopkins University, told Ainlay the best advice he could give him was to take time to interact with the students.
"They are the reason the college exists," Brody said. "And perhaps after your first year in the job, you will decide to teach a seminar or class. There you will find that the best ‘great reward' of your job is to experience first hand the incredible talent that Union College is nurturing to become the leaders of the 21st century."
James Davison Hunter, the LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory, University of Virginia, introduced Ainlay, who was then installed as President by Stephen J. Ciesinski, chairman of the College's Board of Trustees.
A formal outdoor gala for hundreds of invited guests was to be held on the campus grounds at 7 p.m., followed by a fireworks display at 10 p.m. The celebration was planned by William Finlay, an associate professor and director of the Yulman Theatre.
The two-day inaugural event began Friday with a symposium in the Nott Memorial on "Bridging the Academic - Social Gap." The keynote address was given by Richard Light, the Walter H. Gale Professor of Education and director of the Harvard Seminar on Assessment at Harvard University. Light's recent book, "Making the Most of College," won the Stone Award for best book on education and society.
Panelists included Tim Spears, dean and professor of American Studies, Middlebury College; Victoria Swigert, professor of sociology and assistant dean, College of the Holy Cross; Kent Trachte, dean of Franklin and Marshall College; and Suzanne Benack, professor of psychology and Minerva faculty representative from Sorum House at Union College. The moderator was Byron Nichols, professor of political science at Union.
Union College, founded in 1795 as the first college chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, offers programs in the liberal arts and engineering to 2,100 undergraduates.