My View

Senator responds to VP’s comments

To the Editor:

Roughly one week has elapsed since the Student Senate passed its now infamous “Motion Number 2,” regarding the state of the Institute and the leadership of President Shirley Ann Jackson. Over this time, I have closely listened to and read any responses I could find. There have been many, and they have varied widely, from concern about the Senate’s ability to pass such a motion, to doubt that it will change anything, and to opposition to such an action. I have definitely heard some negative responses, but the vast majority of people either say they wish they were better informed, or say this type of action was a long time in coming. I have had professors come up to me to thank me personally, saying that the current situation was out of control and something needed to happen. I have had Troy community members express their support. Some of the most encouraging reactions have been those from members of the administration, who have said nothing to dispute any of the content of the motion and, in many cases, even corroborate it.

Vice President for Student Life Timothy Sams has been asked by the president to “correct any misunderstandings that led to this resolution,” and we have seen his attempts at this. He came out strongly in the last issue of The Poly, defending the legacy of the president, discussing the transformation which our school has undergone, and questioning the passage of the recent motion as a “personal attack” on the president made by 11 students. I will address each of these points:

Personal Attack: A reading of the motion passed by the Senate shows that we, in fact, have immense respect for Jackson and the changes she has brought about over the past 10 years. We are not questioning her integrity or character, but her fitness for the next phase of our transformation. We have critiqued her leadership and management approach and, to date, no one has countered our findings. We have a responsibility to the school, and just as Sams said, “It is important that we approach this responsibility with honesty and with our best sensibilities, which include making difficult statements.”

11 Students: Sams and other members of the community have questioned the ability of 11 duly elected student senators to take this kind of action against our president. While I would agree that we do not have the authority to single-handedly take direct action against the president (i.e., a vote of no confidence), part of our role as the Senate is to make a presentation to the board of trustees. The motion which was passed by 11 (very informed and well researched) students was, in fact, simply a recommendation to the board of trustees­­­—the group that does have the power and responsibility to act. I would also point out that our report, conclusions, and resolution were based on hundreds of interviews and thousands of hours of work aimed to gather information and understand the views of all sectors of the RPI community. I dare to speculate that if Sams or the board of trustees were to engage in this same level of listening, to how the students, faculty, staff, and alumni feel, their assessment of the situation might evolve.

I have been saddened, but not surprised, by the lack of engagement by both the administration and the board of trustees on the actual issues which the motion brought forth. They are, as we said, difficult statements, and the implications run deep into the structure and assumptions of the school. However, if they continue to be ignored, these problems will not resolve themselves, but fester, and manifest themselves in low morale, inability to complete culture shifts, high turnover rates—especially among deans, administrators, and engaged faculty members— and, perhaps, difficulty raising the necessary funds to complete our transformation. To attack the messengers without facing up to the message is an old debating trick, but we would have hoped for better from those in whom this institution has placed its trust.

Anasha Cummings

Class of 2012 Senator