Ad hoc committee explains Institute info

On Friday, the Student Senate released its long-awaited report on the state of the Institute. The report represents the culmination of the research conducted by the Senate’s ad hoc committee. Separated into four main sections, the publication outlines the changes made at RPI since the Rensselaer Plan was initiated in Summer 2000. The four sections are made up of “Programs and Initiatives,” “Institutional Rankings,” “Work Environment and Academic Culture,” and “Institutional Finance.” However, the report itself is not the position of the Senate, but that of the ad hoc committee. This, the Advocacy, Community, and Advancement Committee chair Anasha Cummings ’12 said, “is one of the most common misconceptions about the report.”

The first section highlights the various programs and initiatives that have impacted the Rensselaer community over the past 11 years. Based on programs at other schools like Yale University and Dartmouth College, the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative, the report mentions, has built on many areas of the Institute. An example of this, it says, would be the apparent improvements to the First-Year Experience. The report also describes the introduction of such buildings as the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, the Computation Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, and the East Campus Athletic Village. It does mention, though, that “the accessibility of these buildings for students have been in question.”

Following “Programs and Initiatives” is the section based on the Institute’s rankings. Many students have shown concern about RPI’s current rank, usually citing the drop from 41 to 50 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. The report, though, promotes the concept that this data has “very little impact” on anything other than application rates. Statistics that have impacted the student body, on the other hand, are rankings about the faculty resources. As numbers had fallen, “RPI has reacted by capping many class sizes at 19,” commented Cummings. He goes on to mention, as an example, that students have been having difficulties getting into Sustainability Studies classes.

The third section, “Work Environment & Academic Culture,” focuses on the atmosphere for faculty members at the Institute. As mentioned in the report, many members of the faculty have shown concern about the situation. However, “many faculty members interviewed had indicated a desire to remain anonymous, citing the possibility of action against them as a result.” The report states this perceived lack of well-being may be related to the drop in faculty resources ranking as mentioned previously. Also, the report mentions that there may be a correlation between this apparently negative atmosphere and recent departures of various members of both faculty and staff, such as Laban Coblentz.

Much of the rest of the report encompasses the fourth section, “Institutional Finance.” This section is much longer than the other sections, as it includes information both on the current financial state of the Institute and the expenditures and financial decisions that led to this situation. The report shows that RPI has a current debt of $701 million. This follows in the wake of rising expenditures—during the 2008–09 academic year, total expenditures amounted to more than $375 million. This also may have had an effect on financial aid for students. In recent years, students have had to take out larger student loans; whether this is due to financial decisions or the economic status of the country is debatable.

Having taken all of this information into consideration, the Senate developed the motion—passed a few weeks ago—that represents, according to Cummings, the Senate’s official position on the state of the Institute. The board of trustees received the motion shortly after its release, but claimed the comments made in the motion “are not well founded.”