Board Report

Dear Friend of Union College,

Following a meeting of the Board of Trustees on a spectacular ReUnion Weekend, it is my honor to introduce myself as the new chair and to thank my predecessor, John E. Kelly III ’76 for his commitment to the College and the Board.

I am a proud member of the Class of 1985, earning a degree in economics. I may be remembered from my student days as a member of the football and track teams. I was also a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. After Union, I went on to earn an MBA at Harvard Business School and a career in investment banking.

Today, I am vice chairman and head of mergers and acquisitions at Macquarie Capital in New York City. My wife, Julianne, and I are proud parents of Isabella and Robert.

I owe much of who I am today to the education and experience I received at Union. I’m looking forward to working with President Harris and my fellow Board members to ensure that future generations who come to this school can say the same.

You can read more about me here.

John Kelly has led this Board with distinction since he was elected chair in 2015.

As executive vice president at IBM, he has a unique understanding of the most rapidly evolving sector of our economy – digital technology – and he has raised the profile of the College as a world-class institution of higher learning that provides a uniquely broad and deep education.

As chair, John led the Board through some transformative building milestones including the groundbreaking for the Integrated Science and Engineering Center and the dedication of Ainlay Hall, the renovation of the Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts, and the construction of the Stanley O’Brien ’74 Center for Collaboration and Engagement. John has been a tireless recruiter of leadership and support for our alma mater.

John and his wife, Helen-Jo, have been consummate ambassadors for Union, hosting events for alumni, students, families and the Board. They also strongly supported the Kelly Adirondack Center and its programs, the Annual Fund and the Integrated Science and Engineering Complex. John was instrumental in facilitating IBM’s donation of a supercluster computer that has revolutionized teaching and research.

Personally, I am grateful to John as a friend and mentor. I am pleased that he will remain a member of the Board.

ReUnion 2019

More than 1,300 alumni and guests returned to campus for ReUnion 2019, which featured great spring weather, plenty of events, dinners and fireworks.

Dr. Gustave Davis ’59 spoke on the attempted assassination of William Seward (Class of 1820) and the medical history of the era. We enjoyed a farewell concert for Hilary Tann, the John Howard Payne Professor of Music. An alumnae tea and forum invited discussion on the upcoming 50th anniversary of coeducation at Union. We also dedicated the Foley Family Garden.

For more about ReUnion, check here.

Here are some of the key topics discussed at the Board meeting:

Academic Affairs

We are engaged in two important processes: the Middle States accreditation, to take stock of where we are, and the Strategic Plan, to chart our future course.

We are drafting the self-study for the Middle States and held town hall meetings ahead of the 2020 team visit.

The Strategic Planning process, began with the arrival of President Harris last fall, and is moving ahead with involvement from all members of the Union community. The prelude to the plan – titled “The Union of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Life: Developing Leaders for Multiple Tomorrows” – addresses a transformation that is faster and more dramatic than the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Union’s challenge, and that of higher education in general, is to provide students with an adaptability that will prepare them for that future. The Strategic Plan is to be presented for Board approval this fall.

Administration and Finance

Union College remains in solid financial condition. We are continuing to invest prudently in key initiatives to enhance students’ experiences while improving operating efficiencies. We established a financial plan for the coming 2019-2020 academic year that targets a balanced budget and also discussed our longer-term financial model.


Union remains a popular choice for high-achieving students. There were 6,082 applications for the Class of 2023, less than half of whom (2,594) were admitted. We have enrolled 569 students and are on target for our anticipated class size.

Members of the incoming class represent 27 states plus the District of Columbia and 14 countries. Twenty-two percent identify as students of color, 13 percent are international, 15 percent are first generation, and 47 percent are women. Sixty-four percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

College Relations

The loyalty and generosity of our alumni and friends is something we never take for granted. I am pleased to report that we have raised nearly $17 million in the current fiscal year. This includes $4.8 million for the Annual Fund and $12.1 million in capital gifts. We have secured over $1.2 million in cash and pledges and $4.3 million in bequest intentions in support of scholarships and immersive experiences such as mini-terms, study abroad and internships.

On behalf of the College and the Board, I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all who contribute to Union.

Diversity and Inclusion

Among recent events, the College hosted the inaugural Union College Forum on Constructive Engagement, a discussion with Pardeep Kaleka and Arno Michaelis titled “The Gifts of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate.” This event, which filled the Nott Memorial to capacity, provided an outstanding venue for students to explore and celebrate differences.


The third phase of the renovation of the Integrated Science and Engineering Center is underway, with move-in set by the end of fall term. The $90 million project, which already has transformed the College, is on budget.

A former bank building at the corner of Nott Street and Van Vranken is under renovation to open this fall as the Williams Center for Campus Community Safety. This building, made possible by a gift from Trustee Kelly Williams ’86, will house the administration of Union’s Campus Safety and serve as anchor in the city’s revitalization of the Nott Street corridor.

Presidential Green Grants totaled $25,000 in support of sustainability initiatives including adding a rain garden and energy efficient windows to Ozone House. With grants from National Grid and the New York State Energy Research Development Authority, we have increased electrical vehicle recharging stations from 4 to 22 and added a mobile-based app.


At the end of March, the endowment return outperformed the composite index, bringing the market value of the total endowment to approximately $456 million.

Student Affairs

The College has been fortunate to have Steve Leavitt as vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students. Since 2003, he has touched nearly every aspect of student life. As Steve returns to teaching in the Department of Anthropology, we thank him for his service, perhaps most importantly in encouraging student leadership.

Steve will be succeeded by Fran’Cee Brown-McClure, who will start July 1 with an impressive background in student affairs at Spelman College, Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin. You can learn more about Fran’Cee here.

It is my honor to serve this College, particularly as we embark on a new and exciting chapter under the leadership of President Harris. On behalf of the Board, thank you for your support of Union College. I look forward to seeing you soon on campus.


Robert Bertagna ‘85

Chair, Board of Trustees