Union College Names 19th President

Feb 20, 2018

The 19th president of Union College was introduced this afternoon in Schenectady.

Board of Trustees Chairman John Kelly told the group assembled at Memorial Chapel that the search involved a vigorous process sifting through "world class applicants" to replace President Stephen Ainlay, who announced last August that he would retire in June after 12 years at the helm of Union College.

"Interviews, references, interviews. The search committee remembers the interviews, the references. Very, very thorough process. We down selected and then the search committee came forward with a unanimous recommendation to the full board. The full board reviewed that and unanimously supported the candidate."

Dr. David Harris will become the first African American president of Union College in its 223-year history. "With respect to Union College, I actually don't think about it that much, the race piece. Wherever I go I'm black, so it's not the same to me as it is to other people."

The 48-year old Harris studied at Northwestern University, where he received a Ph.D.in Sociology in 1997.

Harris assumes the new position on the private campus with 2,200 students July 1st.  "I do appreciate what an incredible responsibility is being president of this school with such a rich history. I want you to know that I'm honored that you've seen fit to give me this opportunity. So I'm really excited to be the 19th president of Union College."

Harris currently is Provost and Senior Vice President at Tufts University. Prior to Tufts, he served as Senior Associate Dean, Deputy Provost, Vice Provost for the Social Sciences, and Professor of Sociology at Cornell University. In 2010-2011, Harris also served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Harris, an avid bicyclist who launched the annual Tufts Century Ride, a 100-mile bike trek connecting the university's three campuses, says he can’t wait to get to know the Schenectady campus and community.  "At Tufts, what I've done is to not just have the bike ride, but I have office hours, and I'll do the same thing here."

Harris explained he'd open his door to groups, small and large, to allow faculty, students and staff to interact and share what they perceive as challenges on campus. He's also keen on informal walks and organized breakfasts. "If you sit in your office and you wait to hear, you will hear lots of good things, and you will hear the bad things when there's a protest outside your office."

Harris, a married father of three daughters, two college-age and a 7-year-old, says he intends to learn more about the liberal arts college before espousing a vision or plan for Union's future.