Over the past few years at RPI, one of the most common issues has been the student opinion that the administration either won’t listen to their concerns or just flat out doesn’t care. Through the years, many feel that the ’Tute Screw is alive and well, from greek initiatives to resident assistant compensation to housing grants. Regardless of my personal opinion on the matter, if students feel this way about the administration, it is a large problem for which resolution is vital.
I would like to draw people’s attention, however, to a situation that most on campus do not have a stake in and therefore have not really heard about (unless they read our front page last week). Rensselaer’s Information Technology department will be changing its program to “Information Technology and Web Science,” which will include an undergraduate major name change and a new required web science course for the major’s incoming students. A good number of sophomore IT students were very displeased regarding the changes and brought their concerns forth in a constructive manner to the IT department, which includes Chair of the Tetherless World Constellation and Associate Dean for Information Technology Jim Hendler and IT Project Manager Linda Kramarchyk.
In response to the growing discontent, Hendler and Kramarchyk organized a meeting for any IT student who wished to voice their opinions about the change, so that the IT department could listen to concerns, field questions, and detail the rationale behind its decision. Though only 15 students were in attendance, the situation was handled in a very constructive manner. Students gave feedback on why they liked or disliked the name change; Hendler, Kramarchyk, and Assistant Vice President for Information Services Jeff Miner explained to students exactly why the name change has occurred. Hendler revealed what companies the department had gotten feedback from about the name change and gave students more of a background on the decision than the short e-mail announcing that the name had been changed.
Obviously in order for this outcry from students to have happened, there was a breakdown of communication somewhere. Whether it was from the IT department to student representatives or from the student representatives to the student body, it happened and can’t be changed.
What impressed me, however, was how Hendler admitted that there was lack of communication and held the meeting to discuss it, whether or not changes could actually occur in the decision. One student even remarked during the meeting about how he appreciated the open forum and that he was glad there was a place to discuss issues instead of being disregarded. Although I am certain not all students emerged from this meeting happy, at least some were able to get background on why the decision was made and left with only minor concerns. After seeing how well this situation was handled, I believe that it should be used as an example at an Institute level.
Although I had previously believed that discontent was at a lull in the student body, I have been very mistaken. Riding on the shuttle, I hear students mocking the administration and complaining about issues ranging from the new West shuttle stop at the Winslow building, to the new president’s house, and various other complaints about the Institute. Just when I was led to believe that the attitudes on campus were improving, I have come to the realization that students are still incredibly discontent, but suffering from a complex that they can’t do anything to change it. A defeated air hangs over not just students, but also faculty and staff.
Now, I’m not encouraging people to start rioting in an effort to change this—such actions wouldn’t get you anywhere. I’m encouraging all members of the RPI community (the administration as well as students, faculty, and staff) to work towards improving this. The President’s Semi-Annual Town Meeting is the week after spring break on March 17 at 1 pm in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Concert Hall, and I would encourage everyone to use this as a constructive forum—like that of the IT Department’s.
If everyone could come to the meeting with an open mind and opinions in hand, I believe that it could go a long way in improving the morale of the Institute as a whole. On a similar note, I hope more people (particularly students) will attend this town meeting; it is on a Wednesday when fewer students have classes. Last semester’s meeting suffered from a relatively empty EMPAC concert hall, which was depressing on several levels.
Even if you believe that your presence won’t do anything, I still encourage you to come listen to your fellow students and chime in if you so desire. You can’t do anything to change the Institute if you don’t make a concerted effort to do so.