Convocation opens next chapter in Union’s remarkable history

Publication Date

In 1945, Union’s 12th president, Dixon Ryan Fox, was working on a book commemorating the College’s first 150 years when he died of a heart attack. Nearly complete, Union College: An Unfinished History, highlighted the importance of the school’s mission beyond its borders and how its distinguished history paved the way for future chapters.

That’s the message President Stephen C. Ainlay touched on Tuesday during Convocation to open Union’s 221st academic year.

“Union College is truly an unfinished history,”Ainlay told the crowd gathered in Memorial Chapel. “Each generation has the opportunity to surpass the accomplishments of those who went before, always remembering that they are advantaged by what their predecessors accomplished during their time here, when they took up the obligation and opportunity to steward this remarkable place.”

Entering his 10th year as president, Ainlay recounted the transformation of academic spaces over the past decade which has dramatically enhanced the educational experience for students and faculty. Among the projects are Taylor Music Center, Henle Dance Pavilion, Lippman Hall, Lamont House, Karp Hall, Wold Center and Butterfield Hall. Visual Arts, currently under renovation, will be renamed Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts when it reopens next fall.

Other projects in the planning stages include a massive overhaul of the Science and Engineering Center. Ainlay noted that much of the complex, built in the late 1960s and dedicated in 1971, is “getting tired.” For Union to maintain its historic leadership role in the STEM fields, he said, it’s essential to undertake a project, which, if approved by the Board of Trustees, would be the largest in terms of square footage and cost in the College’s history. It would also require the greatest fundraising effort ever as well.

When completed, Ainlay said, “we will be the college of choice for students who wish to study electrical engineering and music, art and chemistry, economics and environmental engineering, ethics and 3D printing. We are positioned to be the college of choice for students who want a deep education and yet sense the power of integrating fields of study when seeking a better understanding of the world.”

Plans are also in the works to expand dining space, offer more food options and provide a better overall dining experience by reducing wait times and improving access in the Reamer Campus Center.

Ainlay reiterated his message from a year ago, when Union supported a national campaign to prevent sexual harassment and sexual and relationship violence on college campuses.

“There is no place for sexual violence, abuse, or intimidation in this community,” he said.
The College plans to hire a fulltime Title IX coordinator this fall who will report to the President’s Office and whose responsibilities will include prevention and awareness education.

In closing, Ainlay reminded the audience of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“We’ve accomplished much in the past decade, and Union has never been stronger – measured by financial well-being, strength of its faculty, staff, and students, the quality of its infrastructure, and even its clarity of mission,” Ainlay said. “Yes, Union is an unfinished history, and we have the opportunity to breathe life into its distinctive mission, to write those next chapters and to establish our continued significance to the world.”

To read the text of Ainlay’s speech, click here.

Also at Convocation, Ainlay welcomed the Class of 2019. The 571 first-year students were selected from among nearly 6,000 applicants, a record. They come from 31 states and the District of Columbia. Representing 17 countries, nearly 30 percent are international or from underrepresented backgrounds. Seventy percent were ranked in the top 10 percent of their class.

Ainlay also acknowledged Claire Bracken, associate professor of English, as the winner of the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Bracken, on leave this term, will be presented with the award at Founders Day in February. The prize was created by David I. Stillman ’72, Abbott Stillman ’69 and Allan Stillman in honor of Abraham Stillman, father and grandfather. It is given annually to a faculty member to encourage outstanding teaching.

A.J. Place, former assistant director of Residential Life, was announced as the recipient of the UNITAS Community-Building Prize for his role in the development of the Next Step Social Justice Retreats, participation in the Bystander Intervention initiative and Sexual Assault and Harassment Committee, and other work. He recently joined Middlebury College.

Therese A. McCarty, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, recognized the students who made the Dean’s List last year. Their names are on a plaque that will be displayed in Reamer Campus Center.

Max Caplan ’16 received the Hollander Prize in Music, established by Lawrence J. Hollander, dean of engineering emeritus. A double major in music and classics from Niskayuna, N.Y., Caplan performed Chopin’s Polonaise in A Major, Op. 40, No. 1 (Military Polonaise).

The convocation opened with remarks from William A. Finlay, College marshal and professor of theater and dance; David Henle ‘75, vice chair of the Board of Trustees; Peter Bedford, John and Jane Wold Professor of Religious Studies and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee; and Ilan Levine ’16, Student Forum president.

Accompanied by Professor of Music Dianne McMullen, the Class of 2019 led Ode to Ole Union to close the ceremony. An all-campus barbecue followed on Hull Plaza.