Union president to step down next summer

Ainlay will serve through June 30
Stephen Charles Ainlay, President of Union College and Chancellor of Union University, talks in his office in February 2016.
Stephen Charles Ainlay, President of Union College and Chancellor of Union University, talks in his office in February 2016.

Stephen Ainlay, Union College’s 18th president, is stepping down next summer after a decade leading the private college, college officials announced Tuesday.

During his tenure, Ainlay helped the college attract record numbers of applicants, diversify its student body and focus on its strengths as a small college at the intersection of the sciences and the arts. He will also go down as the college’s president when Union snagged the 2014 NCAA Men’s Hockey National Championship, which helped raise the college’s national profile. 

Ainlay plans to lead the college for the coming year, ending his tenure June 30.  

“It’s truly been a privilege serving as president of this historic institution,” Ainlay said in the release. 

In the meantime, Union officials will undertake a national search for a new president. Trustee Kelly Williams, a 1986 graduate who works in finance, was appointed to lead the search committee.

In just over a decade as Union president, Ainlay led a campaign that raised more than $250 million to overhaul over a dozen major campus buildings. In the spring, Ainlay announced the college’s biggest building project in its history: a $100 million expansion and renovation of its Science and Engineering Center, which won’t be complete until after Ainlay vacates the president’s home.  

“The most significant legacy of the project … is that Union will be without question the college of choice for physicists who want to dance, chemists who want to be in theater and for art history majors who understand technology is going to infuse the lives they are in,” Ainlay said as he unveiled plans for the 142,000-square-foot home to the college’s science and engineering programs.

Under his administration, Union has seen consistent and gradual growth in its annual applicant pool, resulting this spring in the school’s largest applicant pool ever and most selective freshman class. The college has also reached highs in its level of student diversity and international presence.

Union has also partnered with city and county officials over the past decade on efforts to repurpose abandonded buildings and extend Union’s reach deeper into the community. 

“Things that we have worked on have been mutually-beneficial projects,” said Ray Gillen, director of Metroplex, Schenectady’s county’s economic development arm. “The goal has been to improve the community, and they have been helpful and supportive of efforts to make Schenectady a better place.”

While Ainlay and other Union officials cite the benefits of improvements to downtown Schenectady in helping attract students and faculty, the college’s contribution to the city has also caused tensions with city officials. Last year Ainlay squared off with Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy as the two leaders wrote dueling letters over whether Union should do more to contribute to Schenectady’s tax base.

McCarthy argued that Union’s off-campus expansion caused a “recuring loss of revenue that is damaging to city taxpayers.” Union’s property is largely tax exempt since the school is non-profit.  Ainlay responded to the mayor by highlighting the school’s economic impact on the city and arguing that Schenectady benefits “educationally, economically, socially and culturally” from Union’s presence.

A year ago, the Board of Trustees extended Ainlay’s contract after a five-year extension granted in 2011 had expired. Union officials didn’t provide details of the length of the extension at the time. Ainlay made a salary of over $500,000 with other compensation exceeding $100,000, according to 2015 IRS filings.

Despite shedding more than 10 percent of its endowment wealth in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016, Union had grown its overall endowment by nearly 19 percent between 2011 and 2016, including the 2016 losses.  

Ainlay joined Union as president on July 1, 2006. Before joining Union, Ainlay, a sociologist by training, spent more than 20 years as a professor and administrator at the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts. A native of Goshen, Indiana, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Goshen College and his master’s and doctorate from Rutgers University.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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