School reactor, Co-Term fee discussed

The Senate welcomed four new Senators who were elected in last week’s freshmen elections: Cameron Riley ’19, Wilbur Velarde ’19, Caleb Caraway ’19, and Nancy Bush ’19.

Graduate nuclear engineering student Nick Thompson presented to the Senate his research into Rensselaer’s future plans regarding its nuclear reactor. RPI operates a small nuclear reactor for teaching and research purposes in Schenectady, N.Y. Thompson sponsored a petition regarding the future of the reactor on the RPI Petitions website and the Senate passed a motion last spring saying that the reactor should remain operational going into the future. In the months since, Thompson has received information that the Institute plans on potentially fully decommissioning the reactor in May of 2016.

Thompson speculates that the decision to close the reactor was based on a lack of use prior to 2012, and opposition from the developers of a casino in the Schenectady area. It has been speculated that the casion developers would help pay for demolition, but that is not the case. Thompson said in his presentation that he has been in contact with Dean of the School of Engineering Shakar Garde, Provost Prabhat Hajela, and with the staff of President Shirley Ann Jackson. According to Thompson, no final decision has been made and Jackson is “considering all of the options”; Jackson recognizes the teaching and research value of keeping it operational. He reminded the Senate that RPI has recently received a $800,000 grant from the federal government for research in the reactor, and it is used often currently.

Graduate senator Timothy Krentz then presented thoughts on a proposal for an overhaul of the class activity fee for students in the Co-Terminal Program. Krentz said that the Senior and Graduate Class Councils often have a hard time balancing their budgets for events because Co-Terminal students can attend both senior class events and graduate events, while paying only the undergraduate class activity fee to the senior class. For example, under the current system, co-terminal students can attend Senior Week in both their fourth and fifth years at RPI.

As a short-term fix, Krentz discussed the idea that the undergraduate co-terminal activity fee be split amongst the senior and graduate classes, so that those students can still continue to attend events. He proposed as a long-term fix that students be able to pick which cohort, senior or graduate, that they want to be a part of. That way, the entire co-terminal activity fee would go toward what class an individual student want to support. Krentz emphasized to the Senate that plans have not been finalized, and that these ideas are nowhere near ready for the Senate and Executive Board to vote on them.

The committee chairs of the Senate also provided updates on their work and made sure that the new Senators understood their work. Graduate Senator Spencer Scott gave a report from the Academic Affairs Committee, in which he stated that SIS will have course syllabi available so students can make informed decisions about courses at the time of registration within a week. The committee is also in the process of getting feedback about setting a program for helping upperclassmen and new graduate students apply for graduate fellowships.

Michael Han ’16, from the Facilities and Services committee, met with Vice President of Administration Claude Rounds, to discuss their water bottle filling project and the placement of more tables in Russell Sage Laboratories and the Great Hall of the Darrin Communications Center. Han reported that Rounds supported these projects and that they can move forward with the support of the RPI administration.

Justin Etzine ’18, Chairman of the Web Technologies Group reported on the progress of their four main projects for this year: a new voting suite for the Senate and other clubs, a new elections website, maintenance of the RPI Petitions website, and working with the Department of the Chief Information Officer to improve the user experience of many of their services, including RPInfo and Student Information System. He also reported that issues with MyRPI Hosting have been fixed. MyRPI is a free webhosting to any student and more details can be found at At the same time, Etzine told the Senate that DotCIO is the “tech arm of the administration.”