The Presidents of Union College

John Blair Smith 1795-1799

Upon graduating from Princeton in 1773, Smith embarked on a dual career as an educator and clergyman. In 1795, Union College invited him to become its first president.

Jonathan Edwards, Jr. 1799-1801

Edwards' presidency was marked not so much by his leadership qualities as his ability to quell the college's first crisis. He managed to assuage tensions and prevent the threatened exodus of many students.

Jonathan Maxcy 1802-1804

After the untimely death of Jonathan Edwards, Union College invited Maxcy to become its third president. After only two years as president, Maxcy submitted his resignation and accepted the inaugural presidency of South Carolina University.

Eliphalet Nott 1804-1866

Nott purchased 250 acres of land on the outskirts of the city as a result of a lottery and designated it as the future college campus (until then, Union had been operating from downtown Schenectady). Nott employed French architect Joseph Ramée to design a campus that would rival those of other well established colleges at the time. During his presidency, Nott also transformed the curriculum of Union College to include a new, parallel course of study based in science. The much-loved Nott Memorial was named in honor of his many contributions to the College. Eliphalet Nott remains the college president with the single longest tenure in office. Learn more...

Laurens Perseus Hickok 1866-1868

Union College approached Hickok in 1851 as a possible successor of Nott. Hickok accepted the position of Professor of Moral Philosophy and Vice President in 1852, with the understanding that he would become president upon Nott's death. Nott's death was not as imminent as expected, and after waiting for 14 years, Hickok's presidency lasted only two years.

Charles Augustus Aiken 1869-1871

As president, Aiken made several contributions to Union College. He urged the trustees to raise funds from alumni, he advocated for a more accessible library and he was the first president to submit an annual report.

Eliphalet Nott Potter (Union graduate 1861) 1871-1884

Potter brought significant physical developments to the campus during his tenure, including Becker Hall, the Administration building, Washburn Hall and the completion of the Nott Memorial. He supported the launch of the Concordiensis (college newspaper) and Garnet (yearbook) in 1877.

Harrison Edwin Webster (Union graduate 1868) 1888-1894

Webster was popular with the students, but the college saw very little development during his presidency. Notable contributions included modifying the curriculum by introducing an alternative to the regular scientific course. The only building erected during his presidency was the Psi Upsilon house. Webster's most significant contribution during his tenure was boosting campus morale following 17 years of unrest and stagnation.

Andrew Van Vranken Raymond (Union graduate 1875) 1894-1907

Although Raymond had no previous experience as an educator or administrator, his presidency is considered a success. He moved quickly to strengthen the administration, faculty and curriculum. He made several strong faculty appointments and introduced Union's first system of sabbaticals.

Charles Alexander Richmond 1909-1928

As president, Richmond paid immediate attention to improving the appearance of the campus by building an alumni association. Richmond paid particular attention to the landscaping of the college and had seven new additions constructed during his tenure (Campus Center, Payne Gate, Alumni Gymnasium, Hanna Hall, Butterfield Hall, Memorial Chapel and Bailey Hall).

Frank Parker Day 1929-1933

Day's presidency was marred by the Great Depression and his ill health. These challenges prevented him from making any notable contributions to the college during his tenure.

Dixon Ryan Fox 1934-1945

Fox was devoted to making the college more worldly. He invited distinguished lecturers to the campus, established an early form of a scholar-in-residence program and set up the Saint Andrew Exchange. Fox already knew a great deal about Union's history before he took office, and as the first professional historian to serve as president, he advanced Union's awareness of its past. He reinvigorated the annual Founder's Day celebration and began to focus it on a person or topic connected with Union's past (which is still the case today).

Carter Davidson 1946-1965

During Davidson's first ten years at Union, the endowment rose from $5.0 million to $19.5 million. He oversaw the completion of major buildings—West College Dormitory and Dining Hall (1950); the Field House (1955) and Schaffer Library (1961).The plans for the Humanities and Social Sciences Building (1967) and the dormitories Fox and Davidson (1967) were also conceived during his tenure. Davidson recruited faculty members with strong academic credentials, insisting on doctorates and teaching experience at other institutions.

Harold Clark Martin 1965-1974

Martin arrived at Union in the midst of a faculty debate over proposals for a new general education plan. The resulting plan discarded a rather conventional system of general education and replaced it with new courses under the title "Comprehensive Education." Simultaneously, the college adopted a new trimester-based academic calendar of three courses in each of three terms a year, with two courses each year devoted to "Comprehensive Education." The new curriculum required all students to take courses in both of the newly organized academic centers—Humanities & Social Sciences and Sciences & Engineering.

Thomas Neville Bonner 1974-1978

Bonner introduced the weekly Campus Chronicle to increase communications and focused on making Union a "better place to live, study and work" through increased faculty and staff compensation and more attention to campus recreation, including competitive athletic teams and a campus center with the Dutch Hollow Pub its main attraction.

John Selwyn Morris 1979-1990

Morris made the decision in the spring of 1987 to make SAT scores optional for applicants to Union. Encouraged by his academic deans, the Admissions Committee and the Office of Admissions, who cited the alleged bias in the tests themselves and their failure to predict success in college, Morris agreed to a policy change that drew national attention to Union. During his tenure, he oversaw the renovation and expansion of Carnegie Hall, re-named the College Center and then the Reamer Campus Center. He saw this building as a symbol for the integrity of the college community.

Roger H. Hull 1990-2005

Hull advanced the college in five key areas: integrating the liberal arts and technology; enhancing academic, social and residential life; increasing international education; expanding undergraduate research and encouraging community service. He created the Union-Schenectady Initiative to revitalize the neighborhood to the immediate west of campus. Union invested more than $26 million in projects, including the renovation of the former Ramada Inn into College Park Hall, a residence for 230 upper-class students. Hull was the driving force behind the construction or renovation of 25 buildings on campus.

Stephen Charles Ainlay 2006-2018

Ainlay has overseen two strategic plans that have advanced the College’s initiatives in admissions, development, sustainability, community service, diversity and inclusion. 

In 2007, Ainlay made the College a charter signatory of the Climate Commitment, adopting a plan to reduce the College's carbon footprint and provide research and education. The College has ambitious recycling programs, presidential grants to promote sustainability programs and a new co-generation plant that has dramatically cut emissions and saved energy.

Under Ainlay, the College broke ground on its most ambitious project to date: the Integrated Science and Engineering Complex. The $100-million, 142,000-square-foot facility will promote visibility and connections across disciplines. The building will house primarily six major departments: Biology, Chemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics and Astronomy.

David R. Harris 2018-

David R. Harris, Ph.D., a sociologist with a distinguished record as an innovative teacher, scholar and administrator, became the 19th president of Union College on July 1, 2018.

Most recently, he was chief academic officer at Tufts University. During his tenure, he led the creation of a strategic plan, from which emerged a program to encourage students to perform a year of service before college; and Bridge Professorships, which span two or more schools to advance research and teaching on complex issues. He also established the new position of chief diversity officer and launched Bridging Differences, an initiative to encourage informed discussion around challenging topics.

From 2003 to 2012, Harris was at Cornell University, first as a professor of sociology and later as founding director of Cornell’s Institute for the Social Sciences. From 2010 to 2011, he served as deputy assistant secretary for human services policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. His scholarship has focused on race and ethnicity, social stratification and public policy.

Harris attended Northwestern University, where he earned a B.S. in human development and social policy in 1991, and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1997. He and his wife, Anne, met as undergraduates. They have three daughters.