By Gabriella Levine
Therese McCarty has worn many hats at Union as a past professor and Dean of Faculty. As Acting President, McCarty is currently making history with her newest title as the first female president of Union.
Stepping up to fill the shoes of President Stephen Ainlay while he is on sabbatical, McCarty has reached quite a height since the beginning of her career at Union.
McCarty came to Union in 1987 straight out of her PhD program at the University of Michigan and taught economics here for 18 years. She worked her way up from assistant professor to professor, serving in faculty governance roles, including chair of the faculty. In 2005, Interim President Jim Underwood asked McCarty to step in as interim dean of faculty, and when Ainlay was inaugurated as the 18th president of Union, he invited McCarty to keep the position.
McCarty described her feelings toward her most recent achievement as Acting President in three words: honored, encouraged and optimistic.
McCarty explained that she is honored to be leading an institution like Union, a place she has spent her entire career and that she described as having “tremendous potential.” This prestige has been helped by the encouragement of students, faculty and staff at Union: “I feel tremendously supported by President Ainlay, I feel very supported by the board, I feel supported by students, I feel supported by my faculty colleagues and my administrative colleagues and staff,” McCarty stated.
Her optimism stems from the potential Union pursues by instating a female president.
According to McCarty, Union’s historical first places the college on par with the progress of other institutions in terms of integrating females in top leadership positions. “It’s certainly not unusual that Union has a woman serving as president now, but it’s also not really unusual that there hasn’t been a woman either. Union is moving along towards making these kind of changes, in a similar way to other schools that were all male at one time.”
In the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, composed of Colgate University, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Skidmore College, St. Lawrence University and Union, two of the six institutions—Hamilton and Union— currently have acting female presidents.
Union first opened its doors to women in 1970, engaging a demographic that had historically been excluded from higher education. Now, 43 years later, McCarty sees the importance of a woman president at Union because “it’s one of many steps that Union has taken similar to many other colleges and universities in a process of becoming more open to demographic groups that were previously excluded,” she explained.
This sentiment is reflected in the décor of the president’s office. In 2009, President Ainlay commissioned a portrait of one Moses Viney, a slave who escaped from Maryland on the Underground Railroad and came to rest in Schenectady. Viney worked for Union’s fourth president, Eliphalet Nott, who eventually secured Viney’s freedom. Viney now observes the college’s president hard at work, from his perch on the wall in a portrait above the president’s desk. McCarty believes Viney has come to symbolize “the inclusion of different kinds of people” at Union, and the introduction of a woman president on campus, to McCarty, encourages this positive change.
History Professor Teresa Meade believes that a female president at the college is significant particularly because of the shifting gender demographics of college institutions nationwide. “It makes a difference because the largest cohort of college populations now are female. More women are in college than men,” Meade explained. However, Meade was skeptical of the gender divide at Union, questioning why the college has failed to surpass the national norm for higher enrollment of women than men on college campuses.
According to Admissions, 46 percent of the student body at Union is female. Additionally, McCarty noted that approximately 40% of the faculty at Union is female. Countrywide, the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that between the years of 2009-2020, female enrollment at institutes of higher education is expected to increase by 16% and male enrollment is expected to increase by 8%.
In the coming year, McCarty’s agenda as Union’s first acting female president includes the hope to see Union prosper with its adoption of the honor code, which she believes has far-reaching abilities to change the academic and social climate at Union. “I would like to see us move in that direction to ownership and responsibility of students in the sort of social, personal area…that would take the form of seeing sort of further reduction of alcohol abuse and substance abuse that would come through students having more ownership of and responsibility for that area of life,” McCarty stated.
The abilities of the honor code, as well as the college’s recent opening of the Wicker Wellness Center, contributes to McCarty’s perception of the 2013-2014 academic year’s focus on the themes of health and wellness.
From the outset, McCarty plans to open up the lines of communication with students, and has proposed discussing the roles of females on campus in an event entitled “Women’s Voices at Union.” The event will be open to students on a first come first serve basis on Friday, October 4, from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. Students who are interested in attending can call President McCarty’s office to make reservations.
McCarty noted that though her discussion will focus on female voices at Union, she strongly believes that her role as the first female president of Union is just one piece in the broader scheme of change and inclusion that is occurring on college campuses nationwide.
“This is just one aspect of change at the college, and there are many aspects of change at the college that are really exciting. I think the college has a bright future,” she said.
With the portrait of Moses Viney looking down upon her, McCarty explained that, in order for true change and progress to occur on college campuses, institutions of higher education must first foster an overall culture of inclusion. “It is healthy for an institution to have people from all demographic groups represented in both leadership positions and outside of leadership positions,” McCarty concluded.