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.