Siena Names Former U.S. Rep — an Alumnus — as 12th President

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

The information below is based on the announcement released by Siena College on Feb. 14.

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — Former U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson – an author, scholar and decorated military veteran – has been named the 12th president of Siena College. Gibson, whose five-year term begins July 1, will be formally inaugurated in a campus ceremony this fall.

Chris Gibson, the new president of Siena College. (Photo courtesy of Siena College)

He becomes Siena’s first lay president, a change which Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, said was not specifically planned, but which reflects a shift in how leaders of religiously-affiliated institutions are being chosen.

Gibson’s appointment, announced on Feb. 14, was approved unanimously by the Siena Board of Trustees in a special session. He succeeds Margaret Madden, who has served as interim president since the 2019 death of Siena’s 11th president, Edward Coughlin, OFM. Madden will continue her service to the college in a leadership role.

“We sought out the best man or woman for the job at this particular time in Siena’s history,” said Kevin, the college’s 10th president and a member of the Board’s presidential search committee.

“We sought a person of great spiritual conviction who understands at a personal level the values of Franciscan and Catholic education and a distinct advantage of a Siena College degree,” Kevin continued. “We sought a visionary capable of boldly guiding Siena through a period of change and uncertainty in higher education. And, we sought a compassionate educator with a unique and proven combination of skills to lead Siena in prosperity toward its centennial.”

Kevin described the shift from a friar-priest to a layperson serving in the position for the first time in the college’s history in a special video released to the Siena community several days before the new president was announced.

“For the first time in Siena’s 83-year history, a friar will not occupy the office of the president,” said Kevin, a 1975 graduate of the Loudonville, New York college. “In 2014, the college experienced a major transition when Br. Ed Coughlin, the 11th president, took office. While a friar and a full member of the Franciscan Order, President Coughlin was a lay brother.”

“I assure you — our beloved institution is in very good hands,” Kevin said at the conclusion of the video.

Inspired by Franciscan Tradition
“I am deeply grateful to the board for the high privilege of serving as Siena’s next president, and I am sincerely humbled to have been appointed as the college’s first permanent lay leader,” said Gibson, who graduated from Siena in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in history.

The new president of Siena College is congratulated by the 10th president. (Photo courtesy of Siena College)

“Siena played an instrumental role in shaping my values and ideals, and I am forever indebted to the faculty and staff, including the many friars who have been so influential in my life. The connection I developed to the Franciscan tradition as an undergraduate inspired my personal calling to servant leadership,” Gibson said. “The Franciscan tradition sets Siena apart, and it will inform every decision as I work with the Siena community to advance the legacy of my predecessors and promote the mission of Siena College.”

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I congratulate Dr. Gibson on his appointment as Siena’s 12th president,” said John Murray, Jr. ’79, chairman of Siena’s Board of Trustees. “The entire campus community looks forward to working with him to build on the college’s current successes and move strategically into the future. His dedication to liberal arts education and Siena’s Franciscan values, coupled with his leadership experience as an elected member of Congress, military officer, and respected scholar will be tremendous assets as a higher education executive.”

“Our committee received more than 75 applications from outstanding scholars and higher education executives across the country. This is a testament to the strong academic and financial reputation of our college,” said Thomas Baldwin, Jr. ’81, vice chairman of Siena’s Board of Trustees and chair of the presidential search committee. “We’re delighted to wish Dr. Gibson all the best as he prepares to assume the office of president.”

The nine friars who served as Siena College presidents before Kevin were Kevin Mackin, OFM, William McConville, OFM, Hugh Hines, OFM, Matthew Conlin, OFM, Brian Duffy, OFM, Edmund Christy, OFM, Bertrand Campbell, OFM, Mark Kennedy, OFM, and Cyprian Mensing, OFM.

The announcement of Gibson’s appointment and his in-person introduction as Siena’s next president was made at a gathering in Siena’s Sarazen Student Union with faculty, staff, and students. The Provincial Minister, who led Siena College from 2007 to 2014, gave a prayer.  

Gibson is currently the Stanley Kaplan Distinguished Visiting Professor of American Foreign Policy at Williams College. He is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict, a visiting fellow with the Catholic University’s Center for the Study of Statesmanship, and a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee of the Bipartisan Review, a project with Cornell University’s Institute of Politics.

Diverse Background
Gibson served district NY-19 in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017. He finished first among all House representatives of both political parties in the inaugural report of the Lugar Policy Center Bipartisan Index in 2014. He also served as one of the co-chairs of the bi-partisan caucus, “No Labels.”

The new president is welcomed by the guardian of the friar community at Siena, Mark Reamer (Photo courtesy of Siena College)

He is the author of two books, including his most recent work, Rally Point: Five Tasks to Unite the Country and Revitalize the American Dream. He is a 29-year decorated military veteran who rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army. He commanded the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade, leading them to Haiti on a humanitarian relief operation after the 2010 earthquake.

In addition to his history degree from Siena, Gibson holds an M.A., M.P.A. and Ph.D. in government, all from Cornell University. He lives in Kinderhook, N.Y., with his wife, Mary Jo, and their three children.

“I thank Dr. Madden for her strong, steady, and compassionate leadership in these challenging times as our institution remembers the unimaginable loss and exceptional tenure of beloved Br. Ed,” said Gibson. “I take inspiration in their servant-leadership example and look forward to working with our entire community as we serve our students and take Siena to new heights in the years to come.”

Editor’s note: Photos from Siena’s Feb. 14 announcement event are posted on the Siena College website.