Union College’s new chair of the board has built her career as an executive in the music industry by getting out of her lane and finding her true potential.
Julie Greifer Swidler ’79, executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel for Sony Music Entertainment, is the first woman to serve as board chair.
“The best times I’ve had in my career are when people didn’t put me in a lane,” she said during a recent Storyslam event on campus, which featured women trustees sharing their experiences with the Union community. “I don’t think any of us can be completely categorized. It’s the most amazing thing to have people in your life who see you as more than others see – as more than what your title says.”
Swidler went on to recall that in years past, her then boss, Clive Davis, thought she was the right person to give song comments to a very well-known pop songwriter. Years later, a different boss asked her to run the company’s Nashville division for several months, in between CEOs.
Swidler’s new role as board chair, to which she was elected May 13, is another chance for her to expand her life’s lanes – and help Union do the same so that it continues to realize its potential as a top liberal arts school.
“Higher education is expected to face many challenges over the next decade, from a demographic cliff to financial headwinds,” said Swidler, who joined the board in 2015 and became vice chair in spring 2022. “My top priority is to support President David Harris, the board and the rest of the Union community as we face these challenges and come up with solutions to move from strength to strength for our long-term sustainability.”
“I look forward to working with Julie,” said Harris. “Her devotion to Union, combined with her professional experience as a leader in a highly dynamic industry, make her well suited to lead Union’s next steps.”
Swidler succeeds Robert Bertagna ’85, an investment professional who will remain on the board.
“The Board of Trustees chose Julie as the next chair because she is a leader of high principles, strong intellect and deep experience, as well as for her ability to create consensus,” Bertagna said. “Julie is also highly dedicated to Union College and will be a great partner for President Harris. I am looking forward to supporting Julie in her new role and working with her on a host of new and continuing initiatives.”
Fellow trustee and federal Magistrate Judge (Massachusetts) Judith Dein ’76 is similarly excited to see Swidler take the reins.
“Julie is thoughtful, listens to all, builds consensus and is able to synthesize competing ideas and present a cogent path forward. Julie is not afraid to tackle hard issues, but does so with compassion and calm,” Dein said. “She brings out the best in everyone and has the full support of the board in every way.”
“It is not a secret that there are a number of serious stresses on institutions of higher education that mirror the stresses on society as a whole. These are not easy times, but it is more important than ever that we continue to educate the next generation of leaders to tackle these issues in knowledgeable and ethical ways,” Dein continued. “As the first woman to chair Union’s board, Julie brings a new perspective to addressing these challenges. I look forward to seeing Union continue to thrive and flourish under her leadership of the board.”
Swidler studied political science at Union and went on to earn a degree from New York City’s Cardozo Law School, where she was a member of the Cardozo Law Review.
During her time in Schenectady, she contributed much to the campus as an orientation advisor, residence advisor and DJ at WRUC. She ran the Union College Coffee House and was a member of the Speakers Forum and the College Conduct Committee. Swidler received a Meritorious Service Award at Prize Day her senior year for “service to the College above and beyond the call of duty.”
Swidler’s numerous awards include appearing on the Power 100 and Top Women in Music lists for Billboard Magazine. She was the first label executive (and first woman) to receive the Grammy Foundation’s ELI Service Award in 2016, given to music attorneys for advancing and supporting the music community through service. In 2022, she received the President’s Award from Music.Biz for Outstanding Executive Achievement and most recently was listed in Variety’s Women of Impact NYC in Entertainment for 2023.
Swidler also serves as a vice chair of the board of the T.J. Martell Foundation, which funds innovative medical research to find cures for leukemia, cancer and AIDS.
Swidler and her husband, Michael, live in New York City. They are the parents of three, including a daughter, Nora ’14.
In May, the board also welcomed three new trustees. They are Dr. Shari Midoneck-Pochapin ’85; internal medicine physician at MD² Park Avenue; Jay Freeland ’91; president, CEO and board director of FARO Technologies; and Jason Kellman ’99; a managing partner and chief investment officer at Pinnacle Asset Management. Eastwood Yeboah ’25, who is majoring in psychology and Africana Studies, was elected student trustee. Krisanna Scheiter, associate professor of philosophy and department chair, was elected faculty trustee. Peter Raymond '80, a senior advisor to business and government on infrastructure and digital technologies and their political, economic and societal impacts, was elected alumni trustee.