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RPI Petitions website encourages discussion

This week marks the end of a particularly arduous process for the Student Senate, as six of eight Rensselaer Union Constitution amendments have now been approved for a general student vote during GM Week 2015. As we wrap up the Constitution process on Thursday, pending our final votes, we will also be opening a new and exciting approach to student leadership that I, and my many friends and colleagues in the Student Senate, believe is a crucial next step to extending our collaborative relationship with RPI administration to a broader student populace.

On Monday, in its extra general body meeting, the Senate approved a bylaw amendment establishing a more accessible process to address and implement student petitions. On Thursday, the Senate will be examining a ruleset defined by the Rules and Elections Committee for moderation of that process, and voting to approve final rollout details for RPI Petitions. This new website encourages the development of student-driven petitions, with the intent of encouraging a broader population to engage in the student leadership process and becoming involved in campus discussions.

RPI Petitions has been a personal project of mine this year, proudly developed by Gabe Perez ’16 and the Web Technologies Group in conjunction with Paul Ilori ’17 and the Rules and Elections Committee. Each of the Student Government members involved in this process has been crucial to developing our site in preparation for release.However, it didn’t start here—RPI Petitions began as a branch site derived from Rochester Institute of Technology’s open-source PawPrints application.

Developing our site has been a cross-school collaborative project, as I have conferenced with RIT’s Grand Marshal equivalent—Student Government President Ashley Carrington—on a weekly basis. This collaboration with passionate student leaders from an entirely different university has been a rare and valuable experience; Ashley’s professionalism and virtue are truly admirable, and her drive for open-source software strikingly progressive. As our terms begin to wind to a close, I’m very thankful to have had the chance to work with her and her talented student team.

As currently drafted, any RPI student may petition through the RPI Petitions portal, or sign existing petitions. These petitions will be posted instantly but are subject to moderation rules as defined by R&E and approved by the Student Senate. The ultimate goal of this process is to expand the opportunities that exist for student input and to concurrently strengthen our collaborative ties with RPI administration. Thus, such rules include prohibiting inflammatory language or personal attacks, for example, and allow R&E to defer petitions to other organizations when necessary and appropriate.

Should any petition reach a threshold of 250 signatures within one full year of its original posting, it will be brought to the floor of the Student Senate, where the Senate may take a number of courses of action in response, ranging from assigning a senator to work with the petition, to deferring the matter to a direct student vote. Students creating and leading petition efforts will be given numerous opportunities to connect with Student Government, and if deemed appropriate, the Senate will lend support to their issue and help them connect directly with relevant administrators in a productive environment. Of course, a petition will not guarantee change—the RPI administration controls most policies and changes that directly affect the campus community. However, petitioning the Senate is a fantastic opportunity for you to show support for specific issues, to raise awareness of your concerns, and for the Senate to help you make the appropriate administrative connections to learn more.

These rules are not yet set in stone, as the final Petitions and Referendum Handbook is up for a Senate vote on March 12, and details may change before that time. The rollout of the site will occur following the final vote on its adoption, at a time specified by the Senate. If you have any questions or are eager to start a petition of your own, please email me at gm@rpi.edu.

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