Stephen Charles Ainlay

The 18th president of Union College

Stephen Charles Ainlay

Stephen Charles Ainlay
(Union College Permanent Collection)

Term: 2006-2018
Academic credentials: B.A., Goshen College; M.A., Ph.D., Rutgers University

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

Under Ainlay’s leadership, the College pursued a number of strategic priorities.  Union 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, promoted wellness and safety, and partnered with other organizations.

Ainlay and the College took a number of steps to support a diverse community at Union, including the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer as a member of the Senior Staff; the creation of an Office of 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.

Enhancing and preserving the historic Union campus through new construction, renovation, and addressing deferred maintenance was a significant priority for President Ainlay. Projects 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 included the Peter Irving Wold Center (home to interdisciplinary science and engineering), the Henle Dance Pavilion (home to the College’s growing dance program), the Garnet Commons apartment-style residence hall, the Wicker Wellness Center (home to counseling and health services) and the Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts.  The new Science and Engineering Complex is currently under construction and is the largest project in the College's history.

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 Ainlay’s leadership, the College established U Sustain – a committee of students, faculty and staff to educate the campus community and advise the administration on matters related to sustainability. The organization was cited for its work by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. President Ainlay instituted Presidential Green Grants aimed at supporting environmentally sustainable projects.

 Ainlay 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 appreciating 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, Ainlay 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.

 Ainlay was 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. 2016-2017 set an all-time record in cash and commitments.

Before joining Union, 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 director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and 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, University of Cambridge and a summer fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, California.

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