Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Student Government has been recently impacted by an issue involving its highest elected members. These events directly impacted the Grand Marshal Week 2014 elections, and additionally the RPI campus as a whole. The entire issue surrounded the vote on amendments to the Rensselaer Union Constitution. These proposed amendments sharply divided campus and campus leaders. The changes included making the director of the Union an officer of the Union, changing human resource procedures, and altering the makeup of the Executive Board.
On Thursday, April 10, Rules and Elections Committee Chairman Tim Breen ’14 was sent a letter discussing alleged tampering with campaign posters regarding the controversial amendments to the Rensselaer Union Constitution. The posters in question promoted a vote of no on said amendments in the elections held that day. Posters were apparently systematically removed across campus, though posters in a similar vein are permitted and present in accordance with the Grand Marshal Week Handbook extended campus signage policies.
The policy in effect for this year’s campaign season, beginning March 17, states: “Respect other candidates and their campaigns. Do not tamper with or poster over other campaigns. Do not place tape over tape securing the signs of other candidates.” As such, the removal of any poster on campus by any student is a violation of handbook policy.
In video footage obtained from RPI TV, incumbent Grand Marshal Chuck Carletta ’14, President of the Union Gretchen Sileo ’14, Executive Board Vice Chairman Matt Kosman ’14, and former Grand Marshal Russell Brown ’14 were recorded removing poster which strongly opposed amendments to the Constitution. All of these officials were candidate assistants to President of the Union candidate Frank Abissi. Abissi also appeared in the footage but was not seen committing any violations. This footage can be found at http://poly.rpi.edu/72189. Additionally, Sileo, Carletta, and Brown were all running for Class of 2014 alumni positions.
The previously mentioned videos were shot between April 8 and 10 during a joint investigation launched by The Poly and RPI TV following reports of suspicious activity. Specifically, the footage involving Carletta and Brown was recorded mid-morning on April 9, and the other footage involving Sileo and Kosman was then shot before 7 am on April 10. In the videos, the individuals in question can be clearly seen removing and subsequently destroying posters that did not appear to violate any election policy.
The elections occurred as scheduled on April 10, with a record number of students coming out to vote. The results were originally scheduled to be released the following day at 6:30 pm in the McNeil Room. However, around 11 pm on the night of April 10, news broke of the alleged violations, and it quickly spreading across campus. This new information led to many students posting on social networks to voice concerns on the validity of the elections. R&E had already begun counting ballots by this time, however. They released a decision in the early morning hours of April 11 in response to the events. R&E mandating that all election results would be withheld until further notice, thereby deferring the situation to the Rensselaer Judicial Board.
Going into April 11, it was very uncertain as to what impact these events may have on the election that had already occurred, beyond the fact that the results previously scheduled for that evening would be delayed. What exactly would occur was now in the hands of the J-Board. Some questions raised that the J-Board would answer included: Did these events directly affect the fairness results of the amendment vote? What would happen to the race for PU? Finally, will the races for alumni positions which involved those implicated be held again?
The next major event to occur on April 11 was a statement released by the Dean of Students Office, which echoed the previous statement from R&E regarding deferral to the J-Board. However, DOSO specifically outlined which races are to be withheld, stating “Election results will be withheld by R&E for President of the Union, Class of 2014 Alumni Class Council, and Rensselaer Union Constitutional Amendment referendum. Results of other elections will be released as planned by the R&E.”
Those implicated in the video footage were immediately reached-out-to for comment following the news breaking. Around 5:30 pm on April 11, a joint statement was submitted to The Poly by Carletta, representing the group, including Abissi. In this statement, the full text of which can be found at http://poly.rpi.edu/63345, the group stated that they removed the posters because they were under the belief that said posters were violations of election policies, but in hindsight felt they should have approached the issue differently, thereby apologizing for their role in creating controversy.
This statement was received while the GM Week finale feast was being held in the McNeil room. Those results not withheld in DOSO’s statement were expected to be released at the conclusion of the feast. However, this was not the case, and instead all results were postponed to a later date by R&E. They released a decision later in the evening which cited large voter turnout and technical difficulties as the reason for the delay. Additionally, a new result announcement date of Monday, April 14 at 6 pm was set.
On the evening of April 12, Abissi informed The Poly that he had withdrawn from the race for President of the Union as of 2:17 pm, April 11.
The J-Board hearing was set for 6:30 pm, Sunday, April 13. Those called to the hearing included member of staff for both RPI TV and The Polytechnic and all those implicated in video evidence. Dean of Students Mark Smith was present for the hearing.
The document which resulted from Sunday’s hearing was released just before noon on April 14. In this document, which can be found at http://poly.rpi.edu/36249, 10 individual decisions regarding the issue were included. The four which were running for office (Carletta, Sileo, Brown, and Abissi) were disqualified from their races, while Kosman was barred from holding any appointed Student Government position for the 2014-15 election cycle. Additionally, all five must serve 15 hours of community service. In terms of other related elections, Erin Amarello ’15 was declared PU and the associated Class of ’14 Alumni position races will be held again with all those who were on the primary ballots. The vote on the amendments was declared null and void. This decision effectively ended all votes on the amendments for this election cycle.
Also on April 14, the 44th Student Senate met to discuss a statement regarding the issue, however it should be noted that as this meeting occurred after the election results that evening, the group effectively met without power. The statement by the 44th Senate can be found at http://poly.rpi.edu/44547. The Rensselaer Union Executive Board also met, and at this meeting, Amarello officially took office as the 125th President of the Union. The E-Board adopted the same statement as the Senate, and then began to redistribute the clubs represented by Abissi and Kosman, thereby taking the assumption they will not longer be working in their respective positions. However, it should be noted that at the time of this publication, both are still members of the E-Board, and therefore count towards quorum.
The full consequences of this event are yet to be determined. It remains to be seen if DOSO will make a further decision on the matter. However, the likelihood of this appears to be rather strong.