Dear Friend of Union –
The Board of Trustees met on a beautiful fall weekend (Oct. 27-28) that featured the third annual Feigenbaum Forum on Innovation and Creativity, back-to-back hockey wins over Rensselaer and the first of many opportunities to say “thank you” to Stephen and Judith Ainlay.
As you may have heard, Stephen announced at the start of this year that he would be stepping down as president. On behalf of the Board, I am pleased to say that we have been fortunate to have had Stephen and Judith, who together have created a real sense of community at Union. The end of the Ainlay era in June will mark 12 years during which the College has seen remarkable growth in admissions, academic reputation, development, facilities and diversity. It would be an understatement to say that Union is much better because of the Ainlays, and we thank them and wish them well. Trustee Kelly Williams ’86 has ably taken on the important role of chairing the search committee for Stephen’s successor.
At the Feigenbaum Forum, I was pleased to participate, along with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, in a wide ranging discussion about the human relationship to the unprecedented rate of technological acceleration. Tom and I have long followed this trend in our professional lives, and it is clear that we are at a point that the next generation of leaders need precisely the broad and deep education that only a place like Union can offer.
You can see a video of the Feigenbaum Forum here:
The Board was pleased to welcome three new trustees, all of whom have played important roles with the President’s Council, a group which offers valuable expertise and experience to the College leadership in a range of fields. Dennis Hoffman ’85, senior vice president of Dell Technologies, joins as the new chair of the President’s Council. Arthur Holden ’77, who has had a distinguished 40-year career in healthcare technology, was a founding member of the President’s Council. Bill Perlstein ’71, senior deputy general counsel at BNY Mellon, was the immediate past chair of President’s Council.
Much of the activity in Academic Affairs is focused on the new Integrated Science and Engineering Complex, which is proceeding on-schedule and on-budget. You can see a live video feed here:
We are pleased to report that among the recent academic honors was a prestigious grant of $300,000 from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation Program to Prof. Holli Frey of Geology. Holli and her colleagues will acquire a state-of-the-art inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer for research in Earth sciences. Union has had a 50 percent success rate with this program, compared to a national average of 18 percent.
The board was delighted to meet and congratulate our newly-tenured faculty. They are Takashi Buma, associate professor of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering; Andrew Burkett, associate professor of English; Jue Wang, associate professor of Mathematics; and Roman Yukilevich, associate professor of Biology.
The board also heard a report on an exciting program, the Mellon Presidential Project for Global Learning, from Prof. John Cramsie, director of General Education. Aimed at developing cross-disciplinary experiences with global perspectives, the project sent 25 faculty from a range of disciplines in two groups. In 2016, a group visited China to investigate topics including environmental regulation and the rise of the middle class. In Berlin, in 2017, another group considered the reunification of Germany, sustainable development and migration. The experience helps faculty understand how to forge connections across disciplines to create an integrated understanding of complex issues.
Administration and Finance, Investment
Planning and Priorities has begun discussions on the 2018-19 budget and five-year budget model. We have accounted for the nationwide demographic trend of a shrinking pool of applicants in the coming years, and the College maintains the financial strength and flexibility to meet the challenge.
The College’s investment performance for the last fiscal year was more than 15 percent, improving our five-year endowment spending model. The total endowment market value is about $428 million.
We are pleased that Union is an increasingly popular choice for promising students. The College received a record number of applications (6,676) for the Class of 2021 and tied the lowest admit rate of 37 percent. A total of 570 students enrolled in the first-year class, the sixth largest in school history, with a total enrollment of 2,163, the eighth largest in history.
Union’s selectivity has been a major factor in bond ratings and rankings. U.S. News and World Report recently scored Union’s selectivity rank at 26th among national liberal arts colleges. A decade ago, Union was ranked 38th.
Matt Malatesta, vice president for admissions, thanked President and Mrs. Ainlay for their work in improving the Union “product.” Vast improvements in student experience over the past decade have allowed Union to compete effectively in a very challenging admissions market. Among those improvements in the last decade: a 47 percent increase in admissions (based on four-year averages), a 46 percent increase in early decision applications, a 6 percent decrease in admit rate, a 7 percent increase in domestic multicultural students, an 11 percent increase in students outside New York State, and a 3 point gain in ACT score and similar increases in SAT.
We are thankful to the many alumni and friends who support the mission of the College. The last fiscal year ended with an all-time fundraising record of nearly $43 million, more than $8 million of which was for the Annual Fund. While restricted annual dollars were up, unrestricted giving lagged slightly due to redirecting some leadership gifts toward restricted priorities. The Annual Giving team is hosting an external review with the goal of increasing participation and unrestricted giving.
A Communications and Marketing subcommittee of the Board’s College Relations committee, comprised of trustees and alumni with distinguished backgrounds in the field, is serving as an advisory group. One member of the subcommittee, Trustee Jim Loree ’80, who is CEO and President of Stanley Black and Decker in New Britain, Conn., generously hosted a group from Union for a presentation by their marketing team on best practices in digital marketing.
As we near the completion of a Diversity and Inclusion Plan, the College is working on new collaborations on- and off-campus that will promote dialogue around local, national, international and global issues. One of the goals of the plan is to bring back to campus young alumni of diverse backgrounds to talk about their experiences.
For the fifth consecutive year, the College has received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from Insight Into Diversity magazine. This award, one of only a few national awards that honor accomplishments in promoting diversity and inclusion, is a testament to the College’s ongoing efforts in this important area.
The construction of the Integrated Science and Engineering Complex continues apace with steel structure slated for completion in November. This is an exciting project that will transform the Union education, and the Board is grateful to the many members of the Union community who are making this possible.
Several other capital projects aimed at enhancing the Union experience are in the planning phase. An architect is meeting with a College team to determine needs for a possible expansion of dining facilities at Reamer Campus Center. We are in the design process for a planned two-story addition for the admissions program at Grant Hall. The new facility will include flexible meeting spaces and state-of-the-art AV capabilities for presentations. The College is in the process of acquiring 631 Nott Street, a former bank building, for use as a more centrally-located Office of Campus Safety.
Thanks to a generous gift from the Foley family, we are beginning the creation of a new Arts Courtyard in the area bordered by Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts, Taylor Music Center and Henle Dance Pavilion. The design includes an outdoor classroom and other gathering spaces. The new space also will include a sculpture designed, created and donated by Jack Howard-Potter ’97.
A popular new class through the Minerva programs called Imagination, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE) was part of an effort to more closely align the Minerva program with academic offerings.
Each class session featured a guest speaker followed by a dinner at which students could ask questions in a less formal setting. Nearly 100 students took the course that featured musicians, social entrepreneurs, app inventors and scientists. Students saw how the Minervas work best, at the intersection of intellectual, cultural and social life.
Excitement continues to grow around the Minerva Fellows program. The ninth generation of Minerva Fellows returned last spring for a month of interaction with students, faculty and staff. Besides presenting at a number of classes and events, they held an all-campus panel discussion that drew more than 200 students. Applications for the one-year study abroad program have risen to 35 to 40 each year.
First-year pre-orientation featured a new activity: “A Taste Schenectady.” Designed to introduce students to Schenectady restaurants and the city more broadly, students were surveyed about which food they preferred. Notably, Union’s own Dining Services took second place.
The College is working to ensure our adherence to Title IX guidelines, and with changing guidance at the national level that is not consistent with state standards. Student Affairs staff have also been engaged in revising the process for adjudicating hazing cases. They also have instituted new hazing education initiatives, a Good Samaritan program and an anonymous report line.
As we begin the final chapter of Stephen and Judith Ainlay’s time at Union, I hope you have the chance to attend a Union event, on- or off-campus, to say farewell. As Stephen has often humbly noted, college presidents are simply custodians of their institutions, moving them forward for generations still to come. We have been fortunate indeed to have had a president who has built so much momentum.
John E. Kelly III ’76