I was hoping this week to write an article wishing students well for their holiday break as well as a discussion on recent national events and their impact on Rensselaer (namely, the impending sequestration—automatic budget cuts—triggered as a result of the Congressional Supercommittee failing to reach consensus have some fairly significant and interesting implications for us). However, as this is the last issue of The Polytechnic for this calendar year, I believe that there are some common misconceptions surrounding the Senate’s passage of its motion this past Monday, which requested the Board of Trustees to conduct an investigation into the state of the Institute and other specific concerns, that need to be cleared up for the discussion to progress.
What’s most disappointing to me is that the debate so far has not even scratched below the surface. As far as I’ve heard, while there has been much discussion about Rensselaer’s history and about various tangential issues surrounding the motion, the actual concerns presented in the whereas clauses of the motion have yet to be discussed in any significant way. As a part of that, I have heard no claims against the validity of the information published in the letter sent to administrators (minus one correction), the report, the other supplemental documents, or the concerns outlined in the motion.
Instead, the public administrative response to this motion was dismissal on three main basis: first, that students had not asked for input from key members of the administration prior to the passage of the motion; second, that the motion was worded such that the cabinet members took offence at the motion; and third, that since this motion was passed by a mere 11 students (as opposed to public consensus) it is rendered invalid. The issues of public consensus and personal attacks have been responded to in a variety of public and private forums including elsewhere in this issue, so due to the redundancy (and the upper word limit on this column) I will not delve into the details of these two points here. However, I will respond to the first concern on administrative input. It is my hope that by clearing up any misconceptions that led to these concerns, the discussion will be able to progress to one centering on the concerns outlined in the motion.
The base of this concern was that the Senate either did not consult or inform members of the administration (or, worse, that we were selective in our consultations) while compiling our recommendations. This concern was outlined by Chief Financial Officer and Vice President for Finance Virginia Gregg in her editorial last week and has been restated in several different forums. Honestly, this statement confuses me, as the Senate has been very proactive with meetings, e-mails, and other correspondence with the administration since the start of this process. Specifically, two weeks prior to the passage of the senate motion, I personally sent a letter outlining the top major concerns that had been discussed up to that point to the president, every member of the cabinet, the two “veteran” deans of schools, and the undergraduate and graduate deans.
This letter stated explicitly that my reasons for writing the letter were “First … to ensure that the university leadership is aware of likely actions by the students … [and] second … to give the opportunity to members of the administration, if they choose, have an opportunity to respond to them prior to the meeting and let us know if there are any key facts or components that we are missing.” The letter also ended with an expressed hope to open an honest dialog between all constituencies and an invitation for feedback. In response to this letter, I received several polite acknowledgements of receipt as well a more official response that “resulting from the latest discussions and your letter to the President and Cabinet members, going forward it is expected that student concerns are to go through the Student Life Division.” In addition to communication through this letter, during this period senators met in person with many members of the administration to discuss these and other Senate matters.
Here is a list of unofficial documents produced by members of Senate that are intended to be helpful when understanding the reasoning and intent behind the motion:
1. http://docs.studentsenate.rpi.edu/documents/1702 – This brief explains the meaning and rationale behind the statements in the motion.
2. http://docs.studentsenate.rpi.edu/documents/1701 – These are the findings of the State of the Institute Ad Hoc Committee that were presented to the Student Senate on November 14, 2011. As the Ad Hoc Committee was extended to the end of the calendar year, this report will continue to be updated as needed in order to best inform future decisions. Please note that this document should be considered as a product of the Ad Hoc Committee as opposed to the official word of the Senate.
3. http://docs.studentsenate.rpi.edu/documents/1703 – This timeline of events contains a concise graphic as well as an in-depth description of many of the events preceding this board of trustees meeting.
4. http://docs.studentsenate.rpi.edu/documents/1704 – This letter was sent to the president, the vice presidents, and other members of the Rensselaer leadership. The purpose of this letter was to open a line of open and honest communication between the Student Senate and the administration.
5. http://docs.studentsenate.rpi.edu/documents/57 – Revising the Requisites was a document compiled by the Grand Marshal and others in Spring 2009, regarding student concerns centering around the issue of communication and participation.
Additionally, the official wording of Motion #2 can be found here: http://docs.studentsenate.rpi.edu/documents/1668
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns for me, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Similarly, I encourage you to contact your class senators if you would like to have a more detailed discussion about the motion or any other recent events at Rensselaer.
Have a good break!