Dear member of the Union community
On behalf of Union College’s Board of Trustees, I wish you and your family safety and health during this difficult time.
The Board of Trustees met in early May in a series of virtual meetings. Naturally, much of our discussion focused on the health and safety of our communities on campus and beyond. We also had extensive and on-going reviews of the College’s response this term and of the planning for a future that is still taking shape.
I am pleased to report that the leadership of our College was preparing for COVID-19 nearly two months before March 13, when we followed state and federal guidelines to close the campus for the safety of all.
What followed was an inspiring transformation of the way we’ve done college for generations as faculty, students and staff moved to remote learning. Students, faculty and staff have pitched in for local non-profits, donating items and raising money for food banks and shelters. Also inspiring was the response of the greater Union community. Almost immediately, alumni and friends contributed more than $100,000 toward a persistence fund to cover unexpected student expenses such as travel.
Sadly, the necessity of closing the campus has caused some pain. First, there was the difficult decision to temporarily furlough 270 employees who are not able to do their jobs without being on campus or when students are away. The College is maintaining health benefits for these employees, the majority of whom will have their incomes fully covered by unemployment insurance. These are valued members of the Union community and we look forward to welcoming them back.
We also were forced to postpone some of our most sacred traditions, mainly Commencement and ReUnion. We are intent on celebrating these events and more in the future.
Senior staff began preparations for a possible pandemic in January and subsequently started a COVID-19 task force to make decisions on a range of issues. A new working group, Planning for Multiple Tomorrows (PMT), is planning for the future, considering a wide range of scenarios for the next academic year.
The goals of PMT are:
- Safeguard the health and well-being of our campus and surrounding communities;
- Complete the academic year while remaining true to the goals of the Strategic Plan; and
- Ensure the short- and long-term financial strength of the College.
Our default goal is to safely open our residential experience and in-person classes as soon as practicable. However, what comes next is still unknown. But I am confident that Union will prevail, buoyed by the wide and strong support of alumni and friends.
Faculty, students and staff have done tremendous work in essentially reinventing our teaching and learning models. The Academic Affairs team worked early on with faculty to prepare for the possibility of using remote learning. When this became a reality, faculty worked tirelessly to retool, with tremendous help from Information Technology Services. Despite enormous challenges, this has been a relatively smooth transition. In the end, we were forced to cancel only a handful of courses.
The perseverance of faculty, staff and students has been truly inspiring. For a sample of this, please read a story about Prof. Sandy Wimer teaching a remote class in printmaking.
The Board was pleased to recognize the service of four faculty members by granting tenure and promotion to associate professor. They are Luke Dosiek of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering; Tommaso Gazzari of Classics; Robert Samet of Anthropology; and Nicholas Webb of Computer Science.
Administration and Finance
With many College-wide support functions, Administration and Finance has been focused primarily on responses to the pandemic. Some areas -- including remote education support, campus safety and mail services – are staffed at minimal levels and are collaborating with other departments to maintain social distancing. Reduced staffs from dining and housing are working in College Park Hall, where about 60 students are living.
The financial impact of the COVID pandemic has impacted Union’s budget negatively, as it has for other colleges and universities. Union has received about $.6 million through the CARES act and we expect further expense savings to reduce the deficit, which will be covered by operating reserves.
Admissions launched an aggressive campaign to create a virtual campus experience for accepted students who would normally be visiting campus. Making Union Yours is aimed at getting accepted students to enroll. The website includes video welcome messages from President Harris and several students as well as an extensive video archive of campus programs and events.
Despite the May 1 deadline for admitted students to reserve their spots in the Class of 2024, much remains uncertain. Many schools have extended their deadlines until June 1. Students report wanting to know what schools’ plans are for fall before they make a final commitment. At Union, more than 40 students have been granted extensions on their deposit deadlines and we will continue to review candidates from the wait list.
Predictably, many alumni and friends responded to the COVID pandemic by supporting students through a persistence fund for unexpected expenses such as travel.
Clearly, fundraising looks very different these days with no in-person meetings, but the connections continue through other means.
Despite the current challenges, we have raised nearly $13 million from more than 6,000 donors. This does not include the $51 million gift from Rich and Mary Templeton ’80 that was announced at the Powering Union campaign kickoff in late February.
Leah Rosen began her role as vice president for communications and marketing, a new position that reports directly to the president.
Diversity and Inclusion
In this remote environment, we continue to offer programs that challenge our students to learn about other worldviews, cultures and identities. Programs on intercultural affairs, religious and spiritual life and the LGBTQ+ committee are offered on social media.
We continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Union’s admission of women with the Making Our Mark program, now featuring dozens of profiles with some of our most interesting alumnae.
A new initiative, the Women’s Leadership Institute, is aimed at senior students looking for post-graduate study and work opportunities. In partnership with Becker Career Center and the Dean of Student Affairs Office, the webinar series will feature board members and other alumni/ae panelists sharing their expertise.
Following state and federal guidelines, Facilities has limited staffing to essential maintenance and construction. All staff are provided with necessary personal protection equipment and observe social distancing requirements.
Work on the Integrated Science and Engineering Center continues with demolition of the north towers of the former S&E building, site work and facades and the completion of two faculty laboratories.
Despite the market impact of COVID-19, the fiscal year to date saw an endowment return of 5 percent, the market value of the total endowment on March 31 was about $430 million.
In the words of Dean of Students Fran’Cee Brown-McClure, “Student Affairs is blooming and we are doing our best to help students see flowers in the midst of this global crisis.”
Becker Career Center is operating virtually and continues to have appointments, workshops and employer information sessions. The Eppler-Wolff Counseling Center is holding 88 percent of the sessions they had last spring and continues to offer support groups. Greek chapters are hosting virtual events, fundraisers and discussions. Residential Life, after coordinating a move-out in three days, is finding creative ways to engage the remaining students in College Park Hall, including classes on microwave cooking. More than 50 student clubs are meeting virtually, and Student Forum is holding weekly meetings and running elections for next year’s officers.
As President Harris has said, what makes Union special as a residential campus shines through in our temporary remote learning environment. We are a close community where students take an interest in each other, where faculty go the extra mile to connect with students and where alumni and friends support our mission.
On behalf of the Board, thank you for being part of the Union community. I look forward to seeing on campus as soon as possible.
Robert Bertagna ’85
Chair, Union College Board of Trustees
Past Board Reports
The Board of Trustees met Oct. 18-20 during Homecoming and Family Weekend, which featured an array of fall events, sports contests and the affirmation of an exciting Strategic Plan that will chart the course of Union for the next five years.
The plan – titled “The Power of Union” – begins with our enduring vision: Developing every student to lead with wisdom, empathy and courage, in ways large and small, now and across multiple tomorrows.
Over the past year, President David R. Harris has led an extensive and thorough process to develop the Strategic Plan. All members of the Union community -- students, faculty, staff, alumni – have played important parts in creating a document that will guide our future.
On behalf of the Board, I am indebted to President Harris and all those in the Union community whose time and energy brought this plan to fruition.
You can read more about “The Power of Union” here.
The Board also attended the dedication of a new building that will have a transformative impact on the campus and community: the Williams Center for Campus Community Safety.
The center is the new home of Union’s Campus Safety administration. Located just north of campus in a former bank building at Nott and Van Vranken, the center also is a resource for members of the community.
The lead gift for the center came from trustee Kelly Williams ’86 and her husband, Andrew Forsyth. Support also came from the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority and the Wright Family Foundation.
“Safety isn’t about building walls,” Kelly said at the dedication. “It is about connectedness. It is about being vigilant about other people’s dignity. Safety is showing respect for other people.”
You can read more about the Williams Center for Campus Community Safety here.
While faculty, students and staff have been contributing to the Strategic Plan we have been engaged in a self-study for the spring 2020 reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Approaching these projects simultaneously has been beneficial, with results of the self-study informing the Strategic Plan.
The Strategic Plan and self-study projects have also been invaluable as our General Education task force develops a proposal for a new and innovative GenEd program.
Work continues on the final stage of renovation of the Integrated Science and Engineering Complex, and we are on track for a December move-in. The first stages of this project already have made a tremendous impact on science and engineering at Union, and we are indebted to the many alumni and friends who have made it possible.
Administration and Finance
Despite pressures on institutions nationally, the College is in sound shape. At the end of the last fiscal year, there was a slight positive variance which has been set aside to a reserve account for future use.
A slight decline in enrollment – a national trend – puts our overall enrollment down about 15 students. The slight financial impact has been offset by savings in benefits and a budget contingency.
A major priority of the Strategic Plan has been to ensure that every student has access to all that makes Union special. There have been several exciting new initiatives aimed at keeping Union accessible, maximizing qualified applicants and helping students explore career interests.
The College is expanding the criteria to qualify for Union scholarship assistance through a new financial aid initiative: Making U Possible. Families making up to $250,000 per year, with an expected family contribution of $90,000 or less, will qualify for at least $20,000 in scholarship assistance. Previously, some families at those levels would qualify for little or no assistance.
Making U Possible Family Grants will be available starting with students applying to the Class of 2024. The new grants will not affect funds available for need-based aid. The new Making U Possible Family Grants are part of Making U Possible: The Presidential Initiative for Scholarship and Immersive Excellence.
Created last fall, the initiative ensures that talented students from all backgrounds not only can afford a Union education but also are able to take full advantage of opportunities in and out of the classroom. This includes providing financial assistance to participate in mini-terms, terms abroad, internships and pre-orientation programs.
For more on Making U Possible Family Grants, click here.
Early Action has been added as an option to help diversify and expand the applicant pool, adding more academically talented students from a range of geographies and high schools. Students apply by Nov. 1 with decision notifications by Dec. 20. Unlike early decision, there is no binding commitment and students have until the regular decision May 1 deadline to deposit.
Last summer, the College welcomed 33 incoming first-years in the new Union Scholars Internship program. Students in the program connect with other students, faculty, Becker Career Center staff and professionals in a number of participating companies. The group meets each term to discuss progress, and those who complete the program after the first term of their second year will be matched with an internship the following summer.
With an ambitious Strategic Plan that focuses on ensuring that every student gets the full Union experience comes the need for resources.
I want to personally thank two of my fellow trustees – David Breazzano ’79 and Tom Connolly ’89 – who are generously matching all gifts dollar-for-dollar in the October Challenge. I also want to thank the many alumni and friends who have joined Dave and Tom to help students experience all that Union has to offer. For more on the October Challenge click here.
President Harris has announced the creation of a vice president for communications and marketing position that will serve on his senior staff, and a national search is under way.
The College is preparing for a yearlong celebration in 2020 of the 50th anniversary of coeducation. “Making Our Mark: A Celebration of Union Women” will feature faculty- and student-led programs, exhibits and events that will highlight the impact of Union women around the world.
Diversity and Inclusion
Several new programs are promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives at the College.
Fifteen employees recently completed a year-long certification course that covered a range of topics including cultural competency, different ability etiquette, mental health and spiritual worldviews. Participants concluded the course with presentations to the campus community. Two projects were published in professional journals.
“Chew, Chat and Chill” is a new program in which students and others in the Union community can explore challenging topics in a safe space. Regular meetings take place in the Unity Room of Reamer Campus Center and include, of course, good food.
We are pleased to announce that Christa Grant has been named the new assistant dean of diversity and inclusion and director of intercultural affairs. She joins Union from Siena College, where she was director of the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center and was responsible for a number of programs to increase student knowledge of social justice issues and competencies.
A number of projects have been under way to maintain and improve our facilities. They include the Integrated Science and Engineering Center; the Williams Center for Campus Community Safety; rowing tanks and swim team locker rooms in Alumni Gymnasium; sprinkler systems in Fox, Webster and West; and renovation of Fox Hall.
The Board’s Investment Committee is focused on the performance of our endowment. The return for fiscal year was 6.5 percent, which outperformed the index by 1.6 percent. At the end of fiscal 2019, the total market value of the endowment was $470 million and on budget.
We are pleased to welcome Fran’Cee Brown-McClure as the new vice president for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. She joins Union with an impressive background in student affairs from Spelman College, Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin.
To focus on supporting first-generation students, the College has created Bridges, an innovative new mentoring program. Started by Andrew Alvez, a residence director, Bridges teams 21 first-generation students with 21 mentors, who were also first-generation.
The campus celebrated John Calvin Toll Day in early October. Organized by the Kenney Center, this annual community service event brings students, staff and faculty to various local sites and agencies. This year, we had nearly 400 individuals at 18 locations.
With a new Strategic Plan, new buildings and new people there is great energy here on campus. I hope you can join us soon to see the excitement.
Board Report Winter 2020
Greetings from Union
The Board of Trustees met in late February for a series of spectacular events that celebrated our illustrious 225-year history and foretold an even brighter future for Union College.
The marquis event was the launch of the Powering Union campaign, which featured the announcement of $51 million gift from Mary H. Templeton ’80 and Rich Templeton ’80 that will transform engineering and the liberal arts.
The gift will create the Templeton Institute for Engineering and Computer Science and also support the recruitment and retention of women pursuing a degree in engineering or computer science, enhancements to the curriculum, faculty development and new facilities.
I was pleased to join President David Harris in announcing that we have raised an incredible $220 million toward our $300 million goal in the Powering Union campaign. We are also pleased to recognize leadership donations from David Breazzano ’78, Susan and Gus Davis ’59, the Feigenbaum Foundation, Joan Casale Henle and David Henle ’75, Betsy and Arthur Holden ’77, Helen-Jo and John Kelly ’76, Gail and David Mixer ’74 and the late John Wold ’38.
“Powering Union: the Campaign for Multiple Tomorrows” is an investment that all of us can make – at any level – to ensure that Union’s future is as storied as its past. As I said at the launch, for me, like for so many others, there is no better way to invest time, talent and treasure than by supporting Union College’s mission to provide a world-class liberal arts education for the next generation of leaders.
On behalf of my fellow trustees, I sincerely thank you for supporting the effort.
You can read more about the launch and the campaign here.
The College also dedicated the Integrated Science and Engineering Complex. The $100 million project, the largest in the school’s history, has transformed the former Science and Engineering Center. The 142,000-square-foot space gives Union one of the finest undergraduate science and engineering facilities in the country.
Nicole Theodosiou, associate professor of biology, said it well: “With this building we enter a new stage in our evolution and development. We have removed walls to create flexible, collaborative suites where research mentoring and teaching can happen in overlapping spaces and students can have areas to call home in their own discipline.”
At Founders Day, Trustee Kelly Williams ’86, a business leader in financial services and a philanthropist, gave the keynote address, intertwining the story of Union’s founding with her own experience as a female founder and entrepreneur in private equity investing. Besides her success in investments, she is known for her commitment to diversity on Wall Street.
The Founders Day convocation also featured the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award presented to Zachary Rittner ’12, a biology and environmental science teacher at Scotch Plains - Fanwood High School in New Jersey; and the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching to Erika Nelson-Mukherjee, associate professor of German.
You can read more about Founders Day here.
Buoyed by the “Powering Union” campaign, we look forward to discussing new initiatives to strengthen engineering and further its integration with the liberal arts.
Our reaccreditation with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is making progress, with our self-study report submitted and an external review team on campus in April.
Faculty and students continue their exciting work outside the classroom, and we are proud to announce that Prof. Luke Dosiek of Electrical, Biomedical and Computer Engineering has received Union’s first-ever National Science Foundation’s prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. The $500,000 grant will support his research in microgrid design, an exciting field that can reduce community dependence on large corporate- and government-owned energy resources.
After an undefeated regular season in football, it is perhaps worth noting that Union athletes bring it in the classroom too: 55 fall-season athletes earned Liberty League All-Academic honors.
Members of the board were pleased to recognize the outstanding teaching and scholarship of Sheri Lullo of Visual Arts by granting her tenure and promotion to associate professor.
Administration and Finance, Investment
As part of ongoing efforts to contain cost and maximize efficiencies, the College is conducting an audit of purchase procedures. We also are joining with other NY6 institutions for a possible group student insurance program. The College continues with NY6 for group purchase of office supplies.
The Board approved a 3.7% increase in our comprehensive fee, while discussing our 2020-21 budget and long-term model.
Endowment is an important measure of a college’s financial health. I am pleased to report that the market value of the total endowment as of Dec. 31. 2019 was about $480 million.
With the admissions season still under way, there are a number of indicators to suggest that Union remains highly competitive and appealing to high caliber students. The number of visits by high school seniors was up 10 percent compared to last year, and five percent over the recent three-year average. Total applications were 7,552, up 24 percent from last year and 16 percent over the three-year average.
With early action added as an option this year, this was an exceptionally strong group academically. More than 1,600 were accepted through EA. At the same time, the number of regular decision applications was large, providing a welcome challenge to enroll a class of 570. Deadline for enrollment is May 1.
College Relations staff have had an extremely busy month. Besides planning for the public campaign launch – a spectacular festival in a dressed-up Memorial Fieldhouse – they organized a Founders Day dinner for lead donors, and a dedication of the Integrated Science and Engineering Complex.
CR staff are planning a number of regional campaign events, the first of which is March 20 in New York City, the second on April 2 in Boston. Other regional events will be announced.
Communications and Marketing have been supporting the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of women at Union. Making Our Mark: A Celebration of Union Women will be a major theme throughout 2020, featuring profiles of a number of alumnae. For more, visit the Marking Our Mark website.
Terri Cerveny, vice president for college relations, retired last fall with sincere thanks and good wishes from the board. Frank Interlichia, a principal in the fundraising consulting firm Marts & Lundy, is serving in an interim capacity.
We are pleased to welcome Leah Rosen as the inaugural vice president of communications and marketing. Leah, who has over 20 years of experience at George Washington University, her alma mater, will be a member of the president’s senior staff and focused on using both traditional and emerging media to advance Union’s reputation.
Diversity and Inclusion
The kickoff event to Making Our Mark was a workshop and lecture led by Pooja Kothari ’03, founder of Boundless Awareness, about unconscious gender bias and its effect on individuals and organizations.
Other recent events have included a Constructive Engagement event on perceptions around the Second Amendment, a six-week certification course on diversity and inclusion, the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March and commemoration, and a social justice retreat for students.
The College hosted the Capital District Feminist Studies Conference, with over 80 attendees. Presenters included Prof. Deidre Hill Butler of Sociology, Prof. Lori Marso of Political Science and Prof. Catherine Walker of Psychology.
Among capital projects in process, renovations to areas connecting the Integrated Science and Engineering Complex are complete with demolition of the former Science and Engineering building underway. Final site work is slated for completion in the summer.
Construction of a crew practice tank at the south end of Alumni Gymnasium is underway with expected completion in April.
Josh Dranoff has joined the College as the new sustainability coordinator, an important role in Union’s efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and work toward a more sustainable campus.
Intent on improving the student experience, we celebrated First Generation College Student Day with a breakfast and video featuring two trustees. We are also moving from a three-day to a four-day orientation for first-year students. We also have held welcome back events at the start of winter term to introduce students to services and opportunities from which they can benefit.
In the busy area of Student Activities, the program has supported an amazing 354 student-run events since the start of the academic year. Among them was a collaboration between miSci (the former Schenectady Museum) and Union’s Black Student Union on influential African American scientists (featured at the recent campaign launch); a lecture by Gabby Douglas, the first African American Olympic gold medal gymnast; and an all-female winter concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of coeducation.
The Williams Center for Campus Community Safety, made possible in large part by the generosity of Trustee Kelly Williams ’86, has begun to fulfill its role in advancing relations with the local community. We are establishing a memorandum of understanding with community partners; working with city officials on improvements to lighting, crosswalks and cameras; and hosting safety programs on site.
Finally, this is an exciting time for all members of the Union community. We are proudly celebrating 225 years as a truly distinctive institution. But more importantly, we are energized by a bold plan, dynamic leadership and the promise of our future.
I hope you can join us on campus or at a regional event to share in the excitement of Union.