The meeting started off with the appointment of Victoria Tong ’16 to chair the Senate Rules & Elections Committee. Following questions about the level of time commitment and her reasons for applying to be chair, the Senate voted unanimously to approve the appointment. Former chair and current senator Paul Ilori ’17 will now be the Co-Chair of the R&E Committee.
Immediately after the appointment of Tong, the Senate discussed the Freshmen Elections Handbook for the Class of 2019. Grand Marshall Marcus Flowers ’16 reminded the Senate that the handbook needed to be approved in order for freshmen to be elected to positions within the Senate and other student government bodies on campus. The handbook details the requirements and timeline of the fall freshmen elections this year. Starting September 22, there will be a series of information sessions run by R&E for all freshmen interested running for positions. It was emphasized that all political party members and campaign managers also have to be freshmen.
It was also mentioned that starting with this election, all political party funds have to go towards materials that promote all members of the party equally. Ilori detailed how the party system has been abused in the past by Grand Marshall and President of the Rensselaer Union candidates in order to increase their campaign budgets above the officially allowed limits for their individual campaigns. Ilori said that the R&E would rather increase spending limits for PU and GM as opposed to letting the former political party practices continue. Some Senators also brought up concerns that any group of three members of the Union can bring formal complaints before the R&E and Ilori responded that the committee has discretion on which complaints it investigates. According to Ilori, that freedom prevents frivolous or malicious complaints from wasting the time of the RnE. Ultimately, the Senate approved the elections handbook and it is available here: http://poly.news/s/94sdn.
The Locked Tuition petition, which the Senate tabled last week so they could conduct background research, was discussed again. Flowers mentioned that he found that most colleges don’t have a similar program and the ones who do are mostly public institutions who would not be peer institutes to Rensselaer. Justin Etzine ’18 wanted to amend the original motion from last week, which was to drop the petition because it falls outsides the jurisdiction of the Senate, and to instead notify administration that there would be student support of the concept of locked tuition. Questions were raised from several Senators about the effectiveness of that course of action and Etzine’s amendment ultimately failed. Ilori then motioned that the petition be referred to the Student Life Committee of the Senate to be furthered examined. Several Senators brought up concerns that such an action would be seen as punting it to committee to die of old age. Thomas Alappat ’17 brought up the fact that RPI is a private institution and that it relies on tuition for a significant part of its budget. Jessica Krajewski ’16 brought up concerns that the SLC already has several projects this semester and that talks about locked tuition have come up in the past but have never been taken seriously by RPI. Eventually, a motion to pass the Locked Tuition petition onto the SLC passed by a slim margin (9-7-5).
Andrew Sudano ’17 then brought before the Senate the idea of creating a joint committee with the Union Executive Board to look into the Student Activity Fee. The Student Activity Fee task force is meant to look into the financial processes of the Union and look for fiscal efficiencies that could be introduced. Sudano explained that he wanted to be joint between the Senate and the E-Board because the Senate is meant to represent the student voice on life at RPI. All RPI students pay the activity fee so the work of this new committee ultimately impacts all students, according to Sudano. Michael Han ’16 had questions about the exact role of the Senate in this committee and didn’t see the need for the Senate to be involved. Graduate Senator Michael Caiola wanted to make sure that the Graduate Council was also involved in the work of this committee and Sudano personally assured him that their voice would be valued and sought.
A motion to remove the GM voting powers on the R&E was brought up next. Ilori explained that under the current rules that the GM is an ex-officio voting member of all Senate committees. He brought to light the inherent conflict of interest that would result if the Grand Marshall was ever the subject of inquiry of R&E. Theoretically, the GM would be able to vote on rulings and sanctions for himself. A brief debate then ensued about the Senate having the constitutional power to strip the Grand Marshall of voting, but it was eventually decided that it was within the Senate’s power. The motion passed unanimously.
The meeting concluded with a discussion about how the Senate will respond to the announcement about RPI’s new Summer Arch program. The Summer Arch is a new initiative in which students would spend the summer between sophomore and junior year taking 16 credits. Students then have to take off either the fall semester or spring semester of their junior year. Options for what to do during the semester off include co-ops, internships, and community service. Flowers compared the Summer Arch program to the current programs at Northeastern University and Dartmouth University. Flowers also told the Senate that he has been personally assured by several top administrators that student input will be valued in working out the exact details of this program. The role of the Senate, according to Flowers, is to amalgamate all student voices on the issue and bring forward to administration a cohesive and polished opinion. He said “raging and yelling” will accomplish nothing and the Senate has a responsibility to future students to make sure this program is implemented in a way that makes sense. RPI administration will be forming four committees (Academics, Student Life, Infrastructure, and the Semester Away) to flesh out the details of the program and there are slots on all four committees for students.
Naturally, several Senators had several questions about the program. Jennifer Friedberg ’18 asked whether students would have to pay tuition while away and Flowers responded by saying that under the current set of plans that students would not have to. Bill Mehner ’16 asked how long the summer courses would be and Flowers responded that they would be 15 weeks long (the same length of a typical semester right now). Graduate student Jennifer Church asked how Reserve Officers’ Training Corps would be affected by being forced to attend classes over the summer. Flowers responded that the administrative Semester Away committee would be charged with that issue in particular. Flowers wrapped up the discussion by emphasizing that the Senate really needs help from all students in order to put together the best response for administration.