Staff Editorial: Why so secretive, RPI?

Chief of Staff and Associate Vice President for Policy and Planning Laban Coblentz has disappeared from RPI. He is no longer listed in the RPI directory, and his position is listed as vacant on the president’s cabinet list. What happened to him?

Generally, when a person of importance leaves the Institute, the office of President Shirley Ann Jackson sends an e-mail to the entire campus to notify everyone and highlight the accomplishments of that person, discussing why he or she was beneficial to the Institute. However, no e-mail was sent regarding Coblentz’s disappearance, and neither Coblentz nor RPI has issued any comment about why he left. In fact, the Institute has refused to answer any questions about the matter; an official statement released by Vice President of Strategic Communication and External Relations William Walker said “[Rensselaer] declines to comment publicly on personal matters,” and attributed all decisions about the university leadership team to Jackson. The Poly finds this to be disconcerting. We feel that Coblentz’s work was a benefit to RPI and can’t see a reason for his departure to go totally unrecognized. What reason does the administration have to keep it a secret?

We are concerned that the RPI administration is dangerously close to establishing a pattern of making large decisions without notifying the general student population, such as sneaking new clauses into the Student Handbook without the approval of the Student Senate in the spring of 2011, or the 2009 policy change that disallowed sophomores from becoming Resident Assistants or Learning Assistants after their applications were already submitted. Even just a few weeks ago, the Provost of the Institute, Robert Palazzo, announced his plan to step down from his position after four years of service, take a year’s sabbatical, and resume work as a professor of biology. An e-mail was only sent out to faculty, not students. Students were impersonally notified via MorningMail the next day, again indicating a trend in poor communication between students and the administration.

We at The Poly will miss Coblentz’s presence on campus, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors. He was a great resource for students, and enthusiastically supported a number of student projects. Coblentz often acted as a link between the student body and the upper administration—with him gone, we fear that the gap between the student body and the decision-makers at RPI may only widen. We hope that the real reason behind his disappearance will soon become clear.