It wasn’t until I had a curious friend come and hang out with me in the Poly office that I finally spent some time looking through the giant red books that make up The Poly’s old issues. What these articles made me realize is that RPI is still facing the same issues as it was in 1990. Complaints in the “My View” section from the March 7, 1990 issue range from opinions regarding tuition increases to a lack of communication between students and the administration. It seems that if you open up any of those old issues you will get an article describing student’s frustration with a policy change such as the implementation of the Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond program or giving a section of Stackwyck to a fraternity group. We as students reject change instinctively.
This immediate rejection is mostly due to the fact that many students are only here for four to five years (my apologies to those stuck in the long-term Ph.D. track). Because students only stay at RPI for a relatively short period of time, information and events lose relevance and context rather quickly. When we enter as freshmen, we have a short amount of time to establish ourselves and to develop an understanding of the Institute culture and policy. Things that were changed recently seem as if they have been in place forever. This is unfortunate because not only does this turnover rate hinder students’ abilities to understand new policy changes, but it also establishes a sort of negative credibility for student’s concerns.
For example, last year, the Student Senate passed a motion regarding their view of the poor state of the Institute. Harshly criticizing President Shirley Ann Jackson’s leadership and how the Institute was being run, the Senate made a public declaration stating they were not happy with some of the policy changes that had seen. This vote was mostly ignored by the Board of Trustees, their argument being that Jackson has helped RPI’s reputation in more ways than what the students saw. Jackson has been president for 13 years, a time that no student can ever match. Students were seen as being overly critical and lacking understanding of how these issues are really being managed. The lack of any long term context hurt the students’ arguments to the point of simply being ignored by the Board.
I am going on my fifth year here at RPI. As part of the Class of 2012, I was a part of the last class that was able to live off-campus as sophomores, and am of the small group of students who experienced the Uprise at Five protest. With the graduation of much of the 2012 class, I have seen a significant lack in protests or arguments around campus. The Alliance for Responsible Governance that popped up last year as a response to the poorly-run Institute has long since died, and since the passing of the Senate’s motion, very little has been said in the way of Institute repair. Is this because all problems with RPI have been fixed? Have all of the issues we were once so passionate about become moot? No! We have simply lost the context and knowledge with which these complaints were once placed. We have allowed ourselves to simply forget what issues we once stood for. The reason we are simply repeating our history from 1990 is that we allow the administration to implement policy and then simply ride out the negative publicity until the troublesome class has graduated.
I urge everyone to talk to older students, to check out the large red books in the Poly office, go through the library’s old archives, and do other research into the history of RPI. If we understand what is going on and look into our immediate past, we will be given much more credibility and will be able to effectively implement change.