President Stephen C. Ainlay to step down after current academic year

Publication Date

Union College President Stephen C. Ainlay and John Kelly III ’76, chair of the board of trustees, today announced that Ainlay will step down as president at the end of the upcoming academic year.

When he ends his tenure June 30, 2018, Ainlay will have completed 12 years of distinguished leadership at Union.

President Ainlay posing for a formal picture

Ainlay became the 18th president of Union College on July 1, 2006. He also serves as the chancellor of Union University, whose member institutions include the Albany Law School, Albany Medical College, Albany College of Pharmacy and the Dudley Observatory. He holds a faculty position as professor of sociology at Union.

“It’s truly been a privilege serving as president of this historic institution,” Ainlay said. “Union is a remarkable place. My wife, Judith, and I are grateful for the support we’ve received from trustees, faculty, students, staff and alumni over the years. While we have a hard time thinking of life without this wonderful campus community, we are both confident the College is in a strong position going forward and that this is the right time to pass the baton.”

In his years as president, Ainlay has worked to secure Union’s place as a leading institution with liberal arts and engineering where outstanding students get a deep and broad education that integrates and redefines fields of learning.

He has overseen two strategic plans that have advanced the College’s initiatives in admissions, development, sustainability, community service, diversity and inclusion.

Union has become the school of choice for many of the nation’s top students. It has steadily grown its applicant pool to the largest ever this past year, resulting in the most selective admissions process in history.

Under Ainlay, the College completed the largest campaign in its history and one of the largest for any liberal arts college, raising $258 million. That campaign enabled Union to strengthen facilities, and build or renovate 14 major structures. Union has nearly doubled the size of the Annual Fund—a direct contribution to the actual costs of educating its students.

Last spring, the College broke ground on its most ambitious project to date: the Integrated Science and Engineering Complex. The $100-million, 142,000-square-foot facility will promote visibility and connections across disciplines. The building will house primarily six major departments: Biology, Chemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics and Astronomy.

Union is now the most diverse and global it has ever been, and it has established Multi-cultural Affairs and Title IX offices to make Union a more inclusive and safer community.

In 2007, Ainlay made the College a charter signatory of the Climate Commitment, adopting a plan to reduce the College's carbon footprint and provide research and education. The College has ambitious recycling programs, presidential grants to promote sustainability programs and a new co-generation plant that has dramatically cut emissions and saved energy.

Ainlay has capitalized on Union’s location in the Capital Region of Upstate New York to provide unique opportunities for students, and to enhance the College’s reputation and influence. He led the acquisition of the former home of environmentalist Paul Schaffer and the Adirondack Research Library to create the Kelly Adirondack Center, which provides rich opportunities for studying and enjoying the Adirondacks.

The revitalization of Schenectady, in which Union was a strong participant, has created new opportunities for partnerships with local organizations, and Union has been repeatedly placed on the Presidential Honor Roll for Community Service.

In a note to the Union community, Kelly praised Ainlay for his leadership.

“We have revitalized our campus infrastructure, and work will continue on the integrated science and engineering complex. We’ve seen record interest in Union, as evidenced by applications and early decision requests. Our reputation continues to grow.”

He also expressed gratitude to President Ainlay and his wife, Judith, for their service.

“They have become fixtures in the Union community, building close relationships with students, faculty and staff, as well as trustees, alumni and the many friends of the College. They have also built close relationships with many in the Schenectady community. It is hard for me, and probably many of you, to imagine Union without the Ainlays.

“That said, Union is incredibly well positioned to lead higher education and prepare our students for an increasingly global, complex and technological world. I am confident that we will attract another great leader to become Union’s 19th president.”

Kelly appointed Trustee Kelly Williams ’86 to chair a committee to begin a national search.

Ainlay has been active in higher education circles. He serves on the Board of the Commission of Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU). President Ainlay joined with five other college presidents and, with the help of the Andrew Mellon Foundation, created the New York Six Consortium. The New York Six facilitates collaborative efforts between Colgate University, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith College, Skidmore College and Union College.

Ainlay is a sociologist with a distinguished record as a scholar, teacher and administrator. His research projects have focused on investigations of blindness, aging, spirituality and various aspects of Mennonite life, all aimed at better understanding the ways in which people find meaning in their lives.

Before joining Union, Ainlay spent 23 years at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. At Holy Cross, he was a professor of sociology and held a number of positions in the administration, including the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and the vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the College.

A native of Goshen, Ind., he earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Goshen College, and both his master’s and Ph.D. in sociology from Rutgers University. Ainlay held a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University. He was also a visiting scholar at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge University and a summer fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, Calif.

The Union College community is proud of the accomplishments over the past 11 years and looking forward to the year ahead under the Ainlays' leadership and the promising future thereafter.

Founded in 1795 as the first planned campus in the country, Union is an independent four-year liberal arts college with engineering. Located in Schenectady, N.Y., the College, with 2,200 full-time undergraduates, is consistently ranked among the nation's top liberal arts institutions.