By Gabriella Levine
President Ainlay poses with his motorcyle. Ainlay traveled 5,000 miles in 10 days to Nebraska and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Ride on, Aindog.
College President Stephen Ainlay is back! Ainlay returned this term from his six month sabbatical, during which he split his time among Union commitments, family reconnection and what he called “renewal.”
After completing the largest fundraising campaign in Union history, the “U Are Union” campaign, which raised $250 million for the school, the Board of Trustees awarded Ainlay a six-month sabbatical, from July 2013 to December 2013.
Despite being on sabbatical, the president spent a good deal of time on his Union commitments.
“I didn’t completely disengage from the college for many reasons,” Ainley explained. “But most notably I conducted and led this search for the new Vice President for College Relations, Terry Cerveny.”
Before he left in July, Ainlay set up a search committee for this position and intermittently returned to campus throughout his sabbatical for meetings with the search committee and interviews with candidates.
Additionally, he considered projects for the school to take on, including renovations of the residence halls and continuing academic projects. “One of the most important work-related aspects of sabbatical was thinking about ‘what do the next five years look like?’” Ainlay said.
He spoke about completing the “arts complex,” which includes renovations to the visual arts building, and thinking about what comes next in the Science and Engineering building. Ainlay also believes it’s time to take on the challenge of addressing the issues of residential halls and dining facilities that have arisen in the past couple years.
“We’re in a place where we really need to take that on in a big way,” Ainlay said about the residential halls.
But the greatest challenge that stands in the way of renovating the current residential halls is the need to relocate students within the housing system in such a way that would allow for an entire hall to be closed for renovations.
“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide how to handle the so-called ‘swing space’ issue,” Ainlay said. One idea that has been bandied about is the addition of an upper class apartment-style residence.
“We’re looking at sequencing it so that the next major project starts when [Karp Hall] is finished,” Ainlay explained. “The dilemma right now for us is that there are more things that I’d like to see us do than probably would be healthy for the campus experience,” he continued.
The president also trained his eye on endeavors outside of Union during his sabbatical—namely, a motorcycle adventure with family. In July, Ainlay began his sabbatical by riding nearly 5,000 miles in 10 days on his motorcycle. First, he headed out to Portland, N.Y. to visit the gravesite of his maternal grandmother’s family and to reflect on the notion of what family means to him.
Ainlay then battled the July heat and headed west with his two brothers and their motorcycles to Nebraska, where his grandmother’s family emigrated, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Ainlay’s older brother was the one who got him into motorcycles as a teenager.
“He’s the one who really had the love of motorcycles, you know when he was 16 he was riding a motorcycle,” Ainlay said.
A few months later, on Oct. 12 the Ainlays enjoyed another familial reconnection as they celebrated the birth of Charles “Charlie” Robert Ainlay, the first grandchild of Ainlay and his wife Judith.
“My father was Charles, Judith’s father was Charles, both went by Charlie, so he’s named after them,” he explained. “He’s a true Charlie.”
But it was about more than the birth for Ainlay. It was about the whole process of being with his family, from setting up the crib to that first moment of holding his grandson.
“He’s an absolutely precious little guy,” Ainlay said. “There’s no question, to be totally honest about it, that the birth of my grandson was the highlight,” he continued. “I was totally unprepared for how special that is.”
Part of Ainlay’s sabbatical also included a process he described as “renewal.”
“The notion of sabbatical comes out of scripture, and the notion of rest after work. The whole notion of the Sabbath is really what a sabbatical is. So the idea that you go through a period of fairly intense work, creating the world, and then resting, letting the fields lie fallow after working them is really what a sabbatical is.”
For this renewal, he and his wife chose the prime location: Florence, Italy for 10 days.
“Florence is just an astonishing place,” Ainlay said. “I think the place it all came together for me was in Santa Croce, the church where you have Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo all in the same place. I thought to myself, when you think about the impact that Florence had on the way in which we just think the world is, from perspective in art to the whole renaissance philosophy,” he continued. “It’s embodied in David, I suppose, you know where you see people with confidence and no longer just pawns to be moved about by supernatural forces.”
He then went on to tell a story about how he met a faculty member from Northeastern University over break, who explained to him that Galileo’s research began when he would sit in church. As the priest would walk down the aisle swinging the incense, Galileo would take his pulse. While doing so, he noticed a rhythmic connection between the beats in his wrist and the swing of the incense.
“And I said to him, I know he didn’t, but you would almost think Galileo went to Union,” Ainlay said. “To be able to see in the world while you’re sitting in just everyday life something like that is what Union is all about. Helping people make those, what we call, those surprising connections. But the capacity to do that takes a very special mind.”
When asked if he accomplished everything that he hoped to while on sabbatical, Ainlay replied, “You never do. I’ve never talked to anybody who gets a sabbatical and comes back and says I did everything I wanted to do. But am I extraordinarily grateful and satisfied? Absolutely.”
Ainlay made it clear that he could not have taken this time for himself had it not been for the help of Dean of Faculty Therese McCarty, who served as the acting president during Ainlay’s sabbatical.
“Her plate was already full, and to take that on was enormously generous on her part,” Ainlay said. “I take it as an act of friendship and loyalty as well as obligation to the school.”
When asked about what he missed most while on sabbatical, Ainlay simply replied, “The students.”
“You can’t believe how much that animates who I am and what I do,” he explained.
As for the rest of the year, Ainlay plans to continue the theme of wellness on campus as well as the strategic plan. And to the soon-to-be graduating class of 2014, Ainlay shares a piece of advice influenced by his time in Florence: “Be Galileos.”