The sixth president of Union College
Aiken took up residence at the College on October 12, 1869, and was formally inaugurated June 28, 1870.
He was the first president to submit annual reports to the board, and he urged that body, if it was unwilling to meet more often than once a year, to appoint an executive committee to deal with programs as they arose (a suggestion not adopted until many years later, although the board did begin to hold semi-annual meetings). He also urged the board to give some attention to raising money from alumni.
Aiken advocated raising standards of admission to the engineering course and making the course itself as rigorous as the classical course. He also defended the value of the study of classical languages and made an original case for humanistic study.
A few of Aiken’s reforms include abolishing the dangerous “horse chestnut fight” and ending the practice of admitting transfer students as late as the third term of the senior year.
Aiken saw the necessity of subordinating the College’s past to its future, and framed the slogan that would be paraphrased by subsequent presidents: “Our Union the Union of the old and the new in education; the Union of experiment and experience."