Staff Editorial: An open letter to the parents of RPI students

Family Weekend is a time to celebrate families at Rensselaer, and you’ll certainly see everyone putting their best foot forwards. You’ll experience a myriad of quality events, informative tours, and artfully-pruned trees and bushes that beautify the campus. We challenge you, however, to experience the average student’s campus. Explore the residence halls, pop into a classroom, and talk to the other families you pass by.

If you happen to walk through North Hall and E-Complex, residence halls limited to upperclassmen, take a look into the rooms and the ceilings for water damage. See where duct tape holds up a corner, where there are cobwebs and mold around the shower (in spite of the fact that a sheet posted claims the bathroom was cleaned just that day). Look at the state of the shared kitchens; see if the oven is still broken. The same worn-down appearance is the case for much of The Quad, and for even more “modern” halls, such as those on Freshman Hill, or the apartments up on Burdett Avenue and above, many of which were meant to be temporary housing only.

Many buildings are still not fully handicapped-accessible. Institute policy states that students who may require handicapped-accessible classrooms will have classes in an accessible classroom. However, take Amos Eaton, where many mathematics department professors have their offices. The building is entirely stairs—disabled students may not have the same access to their professors as others. Is this fair? What would it take to update it?

Consider the often leaky bathrooms in the Darrin Communications Center. Visit Russell Sage Laboratory, a building that is too old to heat evenly, where windows are often left open to cool off the classrooms, and squirrels are known to join the lessons in progress. Walk past the random smoker on campus, in spite of the fact that our school is a “tobacco-free environment.” Take a seat in the Union, and try not to knock your knees against the gum stuck under many of the tables upstairs.

Peek into some of your student’s classrooms. You may have heard on the tour you’d taken in high school that DCC 308 is the biggest lecture hall on campus, but is “never as full” as the class currently inside it. This is true—it’s usually fuller. Your student can probably confirm this. Look at the West Hall Auditorium or Sage Auditorium, and see the desks that are used for General Psychology or Multivariable Calculus. They are tiny, old, and often broken.

You may see posters around campus from the Alliance for Responsible Government, a current campus student protest movement. The Poly is often frustrated by the fact that students tend to be passive at RPI. (You’ll find no 99 percent protesting here.) We believe the fact that ARG exists and is actively trying to get attention says a lot. Some students are dissatisfied with the quality of their education, with issues of administrative transparency, and with the treatment of their professors. They’re questioning. They’re looking for answers.

Ask your student what their professor has to say about the school, about their department, about the administration. Your student might have picked up a cynical tone of voice and a tendency to refer to things decided by “Shirley Ann” and not “President Jackson.” Look across the ‘86 Field from the Jonsson Engineering Center walkway, and look at the buildings there. Which one looks the nicest? Is it the Ricketts Building, or is it the Troy Building, home to the president, her cabinet, and other administrators? (To be fair, The Poly thinks that the few classrooms also located in the Troy Building do have desks more comfortable than many other classrooms.)

Parents, we challenge you to question what you see while you’re here. It’s good to be proud of the things that are good here;

The Poly believes that there are many things to value about RPI, and we’ve all had good experiences in our time here. We want our school to be the best place it can be, if only to validate our investment in the Institute, and its investment in us. But for every new budget that’s announced and every new construction plan, from downtown to another center, it hurts to see how some things don’t change.

The Poly has heard (and experienced) too many cases of students reporting classroom and dorm issues to FIXX or other departments and experiencing either no change or an excessively delayed response—until a parent picks up the phone or writes a scathing e-mail and pushes for an immediate solution.

Parents’ voices are often stronger than those of students. So keep your eyes open while you’re here, and stay involved when you leave. If you have concerns, make them heard.