Senate criticizes Institute leadership

SENATE MEMBERS ALLIE AHN ’13 AND RUSSELL BROWN ’14 ALONG WITH GRAND MARSHAL LEE SHARMA ’12 DISCUSS with the rest of the Senate,

On Monday, the Student Senate convened to finalize their work on a resolution put forward at their last meeting two weeks ago. The resolution in question analyzes the current financial state of the Institute, the atmosphere for students and faculty alike as engendered by the leadership style of President Shirley Ann Jackson and the Institute’s ability to continue to follow the path put forward by in The Rensselaer Plan.

A new resolution had been drafted by Anasha Cummings ’12 that many senators felt was stronger than the previous resolution about the state of the Institute. In light of the newly drafted motion (see Page 2,) the Senate moved to indefinitely postpone the previous week’s motion in favor of the newly minted one, an act which passed 16-1-0. This effectively got rid of the previous week’s resolution in favor of the newly drafted one.

At the beginning of the meeting, Vice President for Student Life Timothy E. Sams gave a brief presentation to the Senate on the resolution that sat before them. He went on to say that the resolution they had been working on represented a statement on not just the president but also on the people that work with the students under the president, the Senate’s constituency, and the board of trustees. Sams said that as a cabinet member, he felt that everyone on the cabinet is concerned about the students and are good people. He also said that a resolution like what had been discussed would hinder his ability to be effective, both with students and amongst his colleagues on the cabinet. He stressed that one shouldn’t shut one’s opponent down by backing them into a corner, but rather work with them.

Sams went on to state that he wanted the Senate to recognize that the president does not make any financial decisions without the approval of the board, and that he had never seen a president be so concerned with students and student life. Sams said that as a person coming from the outside of the Institute, he felt that Jackson was a great president who is committed to the students. He encouraged the Senate to not consider further action as they had already achieved their “win-win” state by having already been heard, considered, and discussed by the president and her cabinet.

From here Sams discussed his worry over what he considered to be a distinct lack of consensus amongst the Student Senate, based on the sheer length of their previous discussions. “We need a powerful and highly respected student government on campus,” and things like the last meeting have eroded public opinion of the Senate according to Sams.

Following Sams’ presentation and the brief appointment of Bruce Jensen ’12 as independent senator, Grand Marshal Lee Sharma ’12 emphasized the “culture of fear” surrounding Jackson’s leadership, citing incendiary examples from anonymous sources. According to Sharma, her sources claim Jackson informed her cabinet that she was disappointed with the release of sensitive information to the Student Senate, and “she will be scheduling meetings to see what they want at RPI and to prove their loyalty to her.”

Sharma went on to say that she had sent a letter to the cabinet—as well as many vice presidents and deans—expressing the Senate’s concerns. She said that she had received many token acknowledgements of having received the letter and that it contained the concerns of the Senate, but few actual responses.

Sharma also noted that of all of the sentiment her contacts had expressed or reported, no one brought up any question as to the validity of the information received, merely anger that the information had been shared with students.

From this point on in the meeting, debate opened up over the merits of the resolution. Proponents cited opinions expressed by anonymous administrators over Jackson’s alleged abrasive style and “culture of fear” engendered by her leadership. Opponents cited the same arguments as had been presented in the previous debate, surrounding its effect of the Senate’s future and its appropriateness. At the conclusion of the debate, the resolution passed 11-7-0.

Chairman Arthur Gajarsa and Vice Chairman Ronald Zlatoper of the board of trustees responded to the resolution by saying, “We have considered its recommendations, and we do not believe they are well-founded.” They go on to further endorse Jackson, stating, “last year the board [of trustees] expressed unequivocal support of President Jackson’s leadership by extending her term for an additional 10 years as president.” They also expressed complete faith in her ability to see her Rensselaer Plan through.

Jackson has also released a statement about her position on the resolution, saying that the resolution shows, “the particular students involved have very strong feelings and strong convictions about Rensselaer, but [she] disagree[s] with their conclusions and tactics.” She went on to say that despite her disagreement she wishes to, “continue to work to enhance communication, especially through the Student Life Division, and come together to better understand one another’s viewpoints.” She then cites that the board of trustees has “expressed its satisfaction with the structure and with the ways in which the vice presidents carry out their responsibilities.” She ended her statement by renewing her commitment to The Rensselaer Plan.

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