Although my rule of thumb is never to write an editorial about something in the same issue as an opinion piece is printed, one opinion piece caught my eye this week: “Pay should only be as high as rankings” on page 6 of the issue, which I urge you to read before reading this editorial. Since next week there will be no new Poly due to Thanksgiving break, I felt it was better to clear the issue up now so we can start fresh after we’ve had our fill of turkey (or tofurkey, according to your preferences).
In this opinion piece, Richard Vehlow ’91 outlines the reasons that my editorial in the November 4 issue of The Poly regarding President Shirley Ann Jackson are “out of line.” Normally, I would have shrugged such a response off; however, I feel certain parts of Vehlow’s arguments must be clarified as to avoid potential miscommunication across the Rensselaer community.
To begin, Vehlow claims that both Grand Marshal Michael Zwack ’11 and myself stated that the Institute was an inferior place prior to Jackson’s tenure; while I cannot speak for Zwack on this, I merely implied that the school was different. I have spoken to many alumni about their experiences at the Institute and have compared mine to theirs. Although I can’t say first-hand what it was like, I can draw some conclusions. The Institute as of now appeals to a different group of students than it did in Vehlow’s time, and whether this is good or bad is for each member of the community to decide on his own. While the Institute in those days had a narrower focus on engineering and science, many students of today come to Rensselaer for our interdisciplinary academics and the rounded aspects of student life (such as athletics, arts, and the new Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students initiative).
While I personally might consider the Institute one way or the other prior to Jackson’s tenure, I stated in my editorial, “I doubt many of us would have wanted to come here.” I don’t see the words “inferior” written or implied there; it was left open for people to draw their own conclusions.
Vehlow also implies that RPI is missing out on research collaborations. Sure, Rensselaer didn’t receive the Sematech research that Vehlow mentioned; however, I don’t see the federal government running to SUNY Albany to dole out its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. Rensselaer has received over $4.8 million from the ARRA thus far—that’s 19 grants of varying amounts. The Army Research Laboratory granted the Institute $16.75 million to launch a new interdisciplinary research center, which is expected to be followed up by an additional $18.75 million for the second phase of the project: a total of $35.5 million over 10 years. We had Professor Robert Linhardt named as one of Scientific American’s top 10 scientists! I would say we’re getting our fair share of research attention.
As for the statement that Jackson’s salary is undeserved: Yes, I agree it is a large sum of money; someone would have to be crazy to argue that point. However, RPI has moved up in rankings since Vehlow was a student here. The Institute’s rank floated around 50 in U.S. World and News Report during the early 90s, and when Jackson arrived in 1999, RPI was ranked as 51. We are now 42nd among national universities and were even named a “New Ivy” in 2006. I would say that’s not too shabby of a feat. Maybe we didn’t reach number one yet, but at the same time, certain colleges like Harvard University and Yale University will always be ranked at the top, so setting that goal is setting yourself up for failure.
In response to the “claim” that Jackson gives back 5 percent of her salary for scholarships, it’s no claim—it’s a fact. And even more is given back to the university by Jackson that is not flaunted, but I guess Vehlow didn’t read my news article carefully enough.
While he is correct that there is security at Jackson’s house and that Jackson is not on campus every single day of the year, she is present at hockey games (like President R. Byron Pipes), as well as football games for that matter, cheering on the Engineers that she bought uniforms for out of her own pocket. Trust me, those don’t come cheap.
Finally, Vehlow’s argument would not be complete without this personal attack: “You probably don’t care because either you’re children of wealth or fail to see the sacrifices your parents make to put you through school.” Vehlow obviously doesn’t read The Poly on a regular basis or he would know my problems with financial aid and the fact that my parents don’t pay for my college tuition (see the September 2 issue). Someone that can barely afford her rent—now that is definitely a “child of wealth.” An ungrateful child who doesn’t appreciate her parents putting her through college often has the task of scrounging up extra money because her Pell Grant hasn’t gone through yet, and had a hold on registering for classes.
I worked incredibly hard through high school to get scholarships to pay for my own schooling, so before making sweeping assumptions, I would advise Vehlow to get his information straight.
Like he did on this last point, Vehlow made other assumptions throughout his piece that are false. “Over 100 valuable employees got Christmas gift pink slips last year,” according to Vehlow, but the number was only 80. “If these actions happened at any public or many private universities, student protests would shut the campus down,” according to Vehlow. Students at RPI have, in fact, protested against some of the events that happened last year on campus (during Uprise at Five), but how would this have shut the campus down? Vehlow has much loftier ideals than is the reality.
Finally, I would like to respond to the idea that The Poly propagates apathy on campus; as Editor in Chief, I would like to think we do the opposite. We provide the Rensselaer community with details of what is going on around campus so that they can make an informed decision. In our editorial sections, we are speaking for no one but ourselves. The purpose of this section is to give our opinions on matters so that we can try to give students or the administration a broader picture of the situations that occur at the Institute (or to offer a lighthearted commentary on something completely unrelated to campus). We encourage students to read our political columns that are run by the College Republicans, Progressive Students Alliance, and College Libertarians each week; we encourage students to go to events happening on campus or sports games to cheer on their team. I would ask Vehlow, how is that promoting apathy?
I urge people to write opinion pieces on this. Did you agree or disagree? What do you think of Jackson’s compensation? The only thing that I will say is to make your opinion informed and avoid the assumptions and generalizations that Vehlow presented in his piece.