Siena College in Loudonville has named former New York Congressman Chris Gibson its next president.
Now returning to lead his alma mater, Gibson spent about three decades in the Army, rising to the rank of colonel. The Republican also represented New York’s 19th and 20th Congressional districts from 2011 through 2017. He briefly explored a run for governor in 2018 before returning to the classroom at Williams College and then Siena.
“I believe at this time in our country, in our country’s history, we need Siena graduates now more than ever,” Gibson said.
Gibson, who has a PhD in government from Cornell, takes over for Margaret Madden, who has been serving in an interim role following the July 2019 death of President Edward Coughlin.
Freshman class president Samuel Hearn has been on campus under all three leaders now, and feels optimistic about Gibson, who spoke about “servant leadership” when being introduced Friday.
“Him using that in his opening remarks really told me about how he views leadership," Hearn said. "That we’re here to serve one another. That we’re not here for personal gain, but to make the community better as a whole.”
Siena board chair John Murray says the decision to hire Gibson was an easy one, even if the private college broke with tradition in hiring a lay president.
“I was delighted to have him as a candidate and I disclosed that, as did several of us," Murray said. "You can’t be a part of this community and not know Chris and not know his background. So, I would say, from my view he was running downhill a little bit.”
Gibson will be the school’s 12th college president when his five-year term begins July 1st.
He was asked if returning to Siena means he’s done with politics.
“Absolutely," Gibson said. "Because this is going to take my full devotion. I’m here. I just signed a five-year contract with Siena College and our students, our faculty, our entire team, deserves my 110% devotion and attention and I’m excited to do so.”
Gibson says state scholarship programs available at SUNY campuses pose a challenge for the private school — not to mention skepticism about the costs of higher education amid the student loan debt boom.
“All those challenges, I’m still bullish," Gibson said. "I believe because of who we are, because of the fact that we are a Franciscan tradition, and because I believe our graduates are the solution to the problem we’re having in America – although we have these challenges – I think we’re going to soar.”
Siena has roughly 3,000 students.