BY PETER DORFMAN
Many people know that a student union is a building set aside for the recreational, social, and governmental activities of students, but even people involved in higher education might not know that running a student union is a professional field. “I think a lot of people fall into it by accident,” says John Taylor, CEO of the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), a Bloomington-based nonprofit organization. “I didn’t study this as an undergraduate—I was a history major.”
ACUI has more than 500 member institutions, mostly in the United States. Indiana University was a founding member. Through its publications, meetings, surveys, and benchmarking tools, ACUI enables student union administrators to measure their programs against those of peer institutions.
The Indiana Memorial Union (IMU) ranks with the best in the nation, Taylor asserts. “They have one of the largest buildings in the nation,” he says. “They do over 10,000 meetings and events annually. They respect the institution’s history, but they’re in touch with the needs of students in 2018.”
Founded in 1914, ACUI was an informal network before 1968, when it established its first office at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. In the early 1980s, Dick Blackburn, then director of the IMU, became ACUI’s executive director and the offices moved to Bloomington.
A New Jersey native, Taylor was mulling his options when he graduated from Rutgers University. Taylor had been a dormitory resident assistant, so when he met with the dean of students to discuss his future plans, the dean suggested he look into student union administration. Taylor took a two-year assistant director’s job at the University of Vermont and fell in love with the field. He directed the union at the University of Michigan for 10 years before joining ACUI in 2015.
Taylor’s wife, Michelle Bartley-Taylor, works at IU’s Center of Excellence for Women in Technology. The Taylors have four children. Two daughters live out of state—one is attending college in Michigan, the other is serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa. Closer to home, their son is a sophomore at IU and another daughter is a sophomore at Bloomington High School North.
Taylor, 54, hopes to finish out his career at ACUI. “Students are more likely to graduate if they are involved in campus activities,” Taylor says. “The union plays a central role in fostering that involvement.”