Biographical Sketch

Stephen Charles Ainlay became the 18th president of Union College on July 1, 2006. He also serves as the chancellor of Union University, whose member institutions include the Albany Law School, Albany Medical College, Albany College of Pharmacy, Union Graduate College and the Dudley Observatory. He holds a faculty position as professor of sociology at Union.

During President Ainlay’s tenure, Union has enjoyed record applications and the academic qualifications of students have never been stronger.  The student body is also the most diverse in the College’s history.   More students from historically underrepresented groups, countries outside the U.S., and regions outside of the northeast are enrolling at Union than ever before. 

Under President Ainlay’s leadership, the College has pursued a number of strategic priorities.  Union has strengthened its commitment to the combination of STEM fields with traditional arts and social sciences.  It has also supported diversity, enhanced its historic campus, fostered sustainability, leveraged its location, and partnered with other organizations.

President Ainlay and the College have taken a number of steps to support a diverse community at Union, including: the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer who is a member of the Senior Staff; the creation of an Office on Multicultural Affairs; the building of a Multi-faith Prayer and Meditation Room; the establishment of the annual Presidential Forum on Diversity; active participation in the POSSE Scholars Program; and the bolstering of interfaith activities and curricular opportunities in the study of world religions.  In recognition of his work on diversity, President Ainlay received the Multicultural Service Award from the Leadership Council on Inclusion and the Sphinx Award from Alpha Phi Alpha. The College has twice received the prestigious HEED Award in recognition of its work in the area of diversity.

Enhancing and preserving the historic Union campus through new construction, renovation, and addressing deferred maintenance has been a significant priority for President Ainlay and Union’s leadership. Recent projects have included the renovation of historic buildings such as Karp Hall (home to humanities), Lippman Hall (home to social sciences), the Taylor Music Center (home to the music program) and the Breazzano Fitness Center (a state-of-the-art fitness facility). New construction includes the Peter Irving Wold Center (home to interdisciplinary science and engineering), the Henle Dance Pavilion (home to the College’s growing dance program), and the Wicker Wellness Center (home to counseling and health services).

President Ainlay was a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), pledging to work toward carbon neutrality, reducing and eventually eliminating campus global warming emissions.  The commitment to sustainability is a foundational element of Union’s Strategic Plan. Among initiatives under President Ainlay’s leadership, the College established U Sustain – a committee of students, faculty and staff who educate the campus community and advise the administration on matters related to sustainability. The organization was cited for its work by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. President Ainlay instituted Presidential Green Grants aimed at supporting environmentally sustainable projects.  Union is now listed among America’s “greenest campuses.”

President Ainlay has capitalized on Union’s location in the Capital Region of Upstate New York to provide unique opportunities for students, and to enhance the College’s reputation and influence. He led the acquisition of the former home of environmentalist Paul Schaffer and the Adirondack Research Library to create the Kelly Adirondack Center which provides rich opportunities for studying and enjoying the Adirondacks. The revitalization of Schenectady, in which Union was a strong participant, has created new opportunities for partnerships with local organizations and Union has been repeatedly placed on the Presidential Honor Roll for Community Service. Recognizing that Union’s location in the Mohawk and Hudson waterways presents opportunities for education and research, President Ainlay has served on the Mighty Waters Task Force, which was formed by U.S. Congressman Paul Tonko, Representative of New York’s 21st District, to determine ways of better utilizing the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers and Erie Canal.  Finally, the proximity to Tech Valley and the state capital of Albany has provided educational and career opportunities for students.  Students have received internships at IBM Global Research Center and at General Electric’s global headquarters for sustainable energy located at its Schenectady campus.

President Ainlay has been a tireless advocate for the College and an active fundraiser. During his tenure, Union College completed the “You Are Union” campaign, which surpassed its $250 million goal by $8 million. The campaign provided more than $40 million each for financial aid and faculty support; $27 million for curriculum and student life; and $32 million for major capital projects.

President Ainlay has been active in higher education circles.  He serves on the Board of the Commission of Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU). President Ainlay joined with five other college presidents and, with the help of the Andrew Mellon Foundation, created the New York Six Consortium.  The New York Six facilitates collaborative efforts between Colgate University, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith College, Skidmore College, and Union College.  In 2007, President Ainlay was appointed by Governor Eliot Spitzer to the Commission on the Future of Higher Education in New York. President Ainlay also currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Loyola University Maryland. 

President Ainlay is a sociologist with a distinguished record as a scholar, teacher and administrator. His research projects have focused on investigations of blindness, aging, spirituality and various aspects of Mennonite life, all aimed at better understanding the ways in which people find meaning in their lives.

Before joining Union, President Ainlay spent 23 years at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. At Holy Cross, he was a professor of sociology and held a number of positions in the administration, including the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and the vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the College.

A native of Goshen, Indiana, he earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Goshen College, and both his master’s and Ph.D. in sociology from Rutgers University. President Ainlay held a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University. He was also a visiting scholar at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge University and a summer fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, California.

President Ainlay is married to Judith Gardner Ainlay.  They are parents of a son, Jesse, an attorney in Boston; daughter-in-law Jaclyne, a teacher in Marblehead, Massachusetts; and a son, Jonathan, who works at Arizona State University's Gammage Center in Phoenix, Arizona.  They also have one grandchild.