Top Hat

Places for information, communication

Monday night, the Student Senate had the honor of hosting President Shirley Ann Jackson and other members of Rensselaer’s leadership during the President’s annual address to the Student Senate. While it’s not unusual for a few non-senators to attend a Student Senate meeting, this week the room was packed, as dozens of students came to hear Jackson’s address. The meeting, as usual, was divided into two components: the presentation and the Q&A session. I’m not going to give a summary of either in this article, as I’m sure The Poly will have a story about this event elsewhere in the paper; instead, I’m going to discuss trends that I saw yesterday and how we, as a student body, can best move forward from this discussion.

Questions were asked on a variety of topics, from the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center usage to academic dean retention. However, the clear trend that emerged was communication: top-down communication of decisions, bottom-up communication of concerns, participation in decision making, pushing student initiatives, finding public information, and much more. The discussion emphasized two things: first, many students don’t know where to find publicly available information; and two, there are places where the communication flow needs to be improved. Here is a quick run through of a few (and certainly not all) of the resources available to students.

If you haven’t yet read it, the first place an student interested in the direction of Rensselaer should look is The Rensselaer Plan, which can be found here: http://rpi.edu/president/plan/. The Plan, drafted a decade ago, sets the course for a transformational change in Rensselaer with the goal of “achiev[ing] greater prominence in the 21st century as a top-tier world-class technological research university with global reach and global impact.” Changes and initiatives undertaken here at RPI are part of this complex, comprehensive, and ambitious plan, and that’s the framework within which they should be discussed and analyzed.

Although The Plan itself is very thorough, it’s also valuable to understand the history and thought-process that led to the development of The Rensselaer Plan. This past spring, the Institute published a book titled Renaissance at Rensselaer: A President, A Plan, A University Transformed that outlines the need and development of the Plan. If you want to borrow or obtain a copy of this book, I suggest contacting the Alumni House for more information.

There is another type of plan that is very valuable, especially if you prefer feasible to-dos over larger goals and vision: performance plans. The performance planning process is an annual process by which each portfolio and department converts the goals of The Rensselaer Plan into specific and measurable goals. These plans help to unify the entirety of RPI around a single vision, propelling us forward towards a better future. To students, the most relevant of these is the Student Life Performance Plan. It is an annual tradition within the Student Life Division to present the draft Performance Plan to the student body for comment before it is approved, putting student voice in the process. This event will be coming up in the next few weeks­—if you’re interested in having your voice heard on the institutional level, I strongly encourage you to attend this event!

There are also many questions and concerns that come up to the administration quite frequently, as those of you who attended the Student Senate meeting this Monday likely realized. The RPI TV website—http://rpitv.org—has many of these meetings publicly available, from the Student Life Performance Plan Review to the Uprise at Five. For events that RPI TV is not able to record, such as Town Hall meetings, the MultiMedia Services website­—http://mms.rpi.edu/—also provides a wealth of information. The Student Senate also keeps most of its minutes and motions online on Flagship Docs—http://docs.studentsenate.rpi.edu/. Flagship also hosts a plethora of other information, from the Union Constitution to previous Performance Plans to the Union Annual Report.

Beyond directions and planning, there is a wealth of financial, enrollment, human resource, and other information available to the public. There are many public data sets and returns that Rensselaer annually completes that are a fantastic resource to students. The first of these is the RPI Common Data Set, available here: http://provost.rpi.edu/node/43. These datasets provide much basic information about RPI, and, since there are almost a decade of the forms available online, it also provides for a lot of comparative data. If you want more in-depth analysis, the Common Data Set links to another valuable resource: the Integrated Post-Secondary Education System Data Center (http://nces.ed.gov/IPEDS/) provides very in-depth information about RPI. If your main interest is finance, there are a couple other resources available to you. As an income tax exempt organization, RPI annually fills out the IRS Form 990 Information Return (http://foundationcenter.org/findfunders/990finder/), which gives very in-depth (and confusing) data about finances. As numbers don’t make sense in a void, the Higher Education Price Index is similar to the more familiar Consumer Price Index, targeted for Higher Education Institutions. Their annual report helps to better explain the normal costs (and change in costs) that a university faces, which helps to give some context to the raw numbers; it can be found here: http://www.commonfund.org/CommonfundInstitute/HEPI. The Chronicle of Higher Education also has many data sets available in their “Facts & Figures” section here: http://chronicle.com/section/Facts-Figures/58/. And, of course, there are many great publications and journals, from Research in Higher Education to Bloomburg, that have information about Renssealer and higher education in general.

Last, there are many physical avenues available to students who want to obtain information. Join a Senate committee; develop a relationship with a staff member; visit the Office of Institutional Research; go to the library archives. There are many staff members and students here who would be happy to help you get the information you’re interested in.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or ideas, please contact me at gm@rpi.edu.