Board Chair's Report -- Winter 2023

The College’s Board of Trustees met in February as the College celebrated the 228th anniversary of its charter.

The Founders Day speaker, author Andrea Barrett ’74, used the occasion to remind students that revision is an important process in finding one’s path. Before her success as a writer (her honors includes the National Book Award and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant.) Andrea was a receptionist, test prep trainer, greenhouse technician and customer service representative in a corrugated box factory.

“Nothing’s more useful than the courage to keep revising the way we should live, who we should be, what we can best bring to the world,” she said.

At the Founders Day ceremony, President David Harris presented Andrea with the Eliphalet Nott Medal, which recognizes the perseverance of alumni who have attained great distinction in their fields. More on Founders Day can be found on the College website.

As part of the College’s commemoration of Black History Month, President Harris moderated Growing the Game, a panel on inclusion in hockey. Union coaches, alumni and other hockey advocates presented the experiences of Black players and coaches, and shared the challenges and the opportunities facing the sport as it looks to increase its racial diversity. Also during Black History Month, the College posted an interesting story about Perspective, a student newspaper launched in 1973 that was an important voice for the Black community at Union.

Sadly, just before the board met, we learned of the passing of Professor Hilary Tann, the John Howard Payne Professor of Music Emerita. Hilary, who joined the College in 1980 was a beloved member of the music department, a mentor to students and colleagues alike and a world-renowned composer. She will be greatly missed.

During its meetings, the board considered a number of important topics including ways to improve student retention, the ongoing branding update, and initiatives to improve the culture and climate for women at Union.

Here are some of the highlights:

Academic Affairs

Members of the board were delighted to approve Cheikh Ndiaye for promotion to full professor of French and Francophone Studies. Among his many contributions to the College, Professor Ndiaye teaches French language and literatures from around the Francophone world, and has directed Union’s study-abroad programs in France, Martinique and Senegal.

In a welcome sign since the worst of COVID-19, the College has seen a significant increase in study abroad this academic year, with over 300 students expected to take part in our international programs this year. The Engineering and Computer Science Initiative has been moving forward on multiple fronts. A search is nearing the finalist phase for a chair for the new Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. The search continues for the Templeton Institute Director/Dean of Engineering.

The General Education Board is approving courses for the new Complex Questions general education curriculum. Working with the Writing Board, the Gen Ed Board also submitted a proposal to the faculty-led Academic Affairs Committee designed to improve the First-Year Inquiry (FYI) Seminar by improving the faculty-to-student ratio and by providing improved mentoring to faculty new to teaching the course.

Restoration work continues on the Chinese Stone Lion, known to many alumni as the Idol. The process to remove the thick layers of paint and preserve the piece is multi-step and laborious. Once completed, it will be fitted for an exhibition case and displayed inside the Peter Irving Wold Center where it transitions to the F.W. Olin center. Here is a recent story on the Chinese Stone Lion.


We are delighted that Union is an increasingly popular choice among students nationwide. Nearly 9,400 prospective students, a record, applied to join the Class of 2027. The total number of applications, an 11 percent jump from the year before, came from all 50 states and 138 countries.

The College received 6,000 applications for early action. Under early action, students who apply by Nov. 1 are notified in late December and have until May 1 to accept. Unlike early decision, early action is non-binding. The important yield period began with the first admitted student program in February.

Administration and Finance

As costs to all sectors of operation continue to rise, the board approved a 3.92 percent increase in the comprehensive fee for the 2023-24 academic year, which brings the cost of attending Union to $82,845. We are well aware of the sacrifices that families make, and we will approve a financial aid package this spring aimed at keeping Union accessible to all students

HR has launched a new performance planning process that empowers staff members to share personal and professional challenges, and propose solutions or innovations. The office has also introduced new employee recognition programs to celebrate outstanding contributions.

We are pleased that Tom Constantine has been promoted to director of Campus Safety. Tom has been a member of the Campus Safety leadership for the past 14 years. A graduate of the FBI National Academy, he served as president of the National Academy Associates New York/Eastern Canada Chapter. He also served as director of Homeland Security/Emergency Management for Schenectady County.

During a highly volatile period for investing, the College remains in sound financial health with an endowment at about $500 million.

College Relations

We are both grateful and proud of the support we receive from so many alumni and friends of the College. In the current fiscal year, new commitments stand at more than $8.2 million. In total, we have raised $309 million for the Powering Union campaign, exceeding our goal of $300 million. Thank you.

To achieve our $30 million fundraising goal for the current fiscal year, we will focus on securing support for hockey scholarships, the Templeton Institute and initiatives to develop students beyond the classroom (U Journey, internships, study away, summer research, endowed class dean positions). We will also emphasize dollar and donor participation through athletics, ReUnion and parent giving fundraising efforts.

Communications and Marketing

The past four months have seen the organization make significant strides in moving the College’s branding update forward, even as it continues to elevate the quality and quantity of storytelling designed to showcase Union’s distinctiveness to key audiences.

As part of the branding effort, we have engaged members of the Union community for guidance as we continue to explore possible alternatives to our Dutchmen/Dutchwomen nickname.

After discussion with students, faculty, staff and alumni, we publicly posed the question of whether the time was right to go a different direction by soliciting suggestions and feedback across all our stakeholder groups. By the end of February, more than 1,200 people had offered 2,200 suggestions through a website created to accept submissions and provide information on the initiative. That list includes more than 400 unique ideas, which we have begun to narrow down.

While initial campus reaction to exploring a change has largely been positive, not surprisingly, our decision has drawn strong reaction from portions of our alumni base. What has been clear throughout this process is that members of the Union community are proud of the College and engaged. We thank everyone for participating in this discussion.

Facilities and Environment

College officials are continuing to explore with local government and local developers the possibility of a new near-campus facility that will be the home of men’s and women’s ice hockey.

Two major buildings were affected during the weekend of Feb. 3, when historically cold temperatures froze and broke water pipes. The Integrated Science and Engineering Center sustained water damage to ventilation and mechanical systems, mostly in laboratory and adjacent areas.

Reamer Campus Center was more seriously impacted when a broken sprinkler main flooded Upper Class Dining and the Reamer Campus Center Auditorium, leaving them off-line for the remainder of the academic year. Staff from Dining, Facilities and Campus Safety did a remarkable job in responding to the emergency and minimizing the disruption. The flood came just as we were about to begin a major renovation of Reamer dining facilities over the summer. Our planned investments will result in an outstanding, reimagined dining experience for our community beginning this fall. Though this has been an inconvenience to our students – particularly our seniors – we have been able to offer options and flexibility to minimize the disruption.

Student Affairs

We are pleased to welcome Annette Diorio, who began as vice president for student affairs and dean of students in January. Annette has more than two decades experience in student affairs leadership including 12 years as vice president for student life at Lafayette College.

In Athletics, the department is participating in a periodic review of its programming to compare to best practices so that we can continue to provide the best possible opportunities to our student athletes. While this work is preliminary, a future report will offer recommendations that will guide the future of the program.

The Class Deans have expanded their partnership with the Office of Student Success to support students on academic warning, special academic warning, and returning from academic dismissal.

In December, the Becker Career Center in collaboration with the Economics Department, College Relations and the President’s Office organized the inaugural Union Financial Network (UFN) Finance Bootcamp. The two-week program in New York City began with sessions led by Union faculty. During the second week, more than a dozen alumni who are well established in the industry volunteered their time and expertise to offer valuable insights to our 19 students.We are grateful to the alumni who shared their experience, and we look forward to future editions of this program.

Finally, I am pleased to report that the College we love is poised for continued success, and to thank you for your support of our mission. I hope to see you on campus soon.

Robert Bertagna ’85

Chair, Union College Board of Trustees