On Tuesday, March 29, Vice President of Student Life Frank E. Ross III held a student forum to discuss recent controversy surrounding changes coming to the Institute and the Rensselaer Union.
Along with Ross, Vice President for Administration Claude Rounds, Vice President for Finance and CFO Virginia Gregg, and Athletic Director Dr. Lee McElroy were present to assist in answering questions.
Graduate student Nick Thompson asked Ross what was being done to ensure students, faculty, and staff have input in decisions and changes. He first posed this question to the administration last November, but received no reply.
Ross replied that “the voice of individuals and our constituents are very important,” and that each dean has their own process for gathering opinions. Ross called the Director of the Union a “critical role” for communication because it is a way to collect the input of the students.
Paul Ilori ’17 wanted to expand on Thompson’s point, stating that the students’ concern is that “we wake up one day and things are different,” to which Ross encouraged more opportunities for discussion, as well as invitations to Senate and Executive Board meetings.
An audience member asked why the students were not informed of the departure of former Director of the Union Joe Cassidy. Ross reiterated that the Director of the Union is a “critical position,” but that he was not at liberty to discuss employment matters. Additionally, he explained that the Director of the Union is an employee of the Institute, and that students are not the ones who appoint full-time administrators.
Another participant inquired about making the transition with the administration less reactionary and more inclusive. Ross said he is the students’ “liaison to the administration,” and is very interested in scheduling more regular forums. He suggested a variety of times and locations, as to accommodate students with varying schedules.
The discussion then shifted to questions regarding the proposed protest and the open class hosted by Professor Bill Puka scheduled for March 30 in front of the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. This question was answered by Rounds, who said that Puka’s class was “not part of the academic schedule, not authorized by the Institute,” and that it “had all the intent of the protest that was denied.”
This statement was met with dissent from Puka, who shouted, “That’s false!” and continued with, “You can’t tell what my intent is.”
A student asked if the class planned for March 30 is forbidden, to which Rounds replied that the permit to protest was denied because it might have the opportunity to interfere with campus activities. From a public safety standpoint, the administration needs to make sure the campus is safe. Rounds then reiterated that the event was not authorized by the Institute.
A question was raised about how Rensselaer would pay for the new proposed administrators. Gregg responded to the question, saying that the Institute had already factored in the cost of the new administrators for the next five years in the budget.
As the discussion moved back to communicating with the student body, Ross said that the ways his predecessors interacted with the student body were not known to him, and he asked for ways in which he could further interact with the student body.
One constituent demanded to know “why was the position posted without the PU and the GM knowing?” Ross said that they will involve students in positions moving forward, and that it is not part of the hiring process to meet with students before posting positions.
Ross stated that the adminstration is still planning on hiring a Director of the Union and that the job posting will be up soon for the position.
A clarifying question was asked about how specifically the new position would improve opportunities for students. Ross said that it was important to view the restructuring of Student Life in its entirety, and how it improves the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students Initiative. The student reiterated his question, emphasizing specifics of how the new position is better than just having a Director of the Union. Ross simply responded that the programs have not been developed yet, which is why they are bringing in a professional.
Grand Marshal Marcus Flowers ’16 said that he, along with President of the Union Nick Dvorak ’16, went through the Rensselaer Plan 2024 and found no mention of the Union. In one interpretation, this could mean the administration doesn’t see a need to fix what isn’t broken, or it could mean that the future of the Union wasn’t considered at all. To this, Gregg said that “the Union is not broken, that plan is for the steps we need to take to move the Institute forward.”
A member of RPI TV asked why requests to film the forum were denied. Ross said that “there was no request made” and spoke about “rules of engagement” for events like this. He would have liked a conversation beforehand about filming, because he viewed this as “an informal conversation.”
One of the last questions asked further questioned Ross on how communication has been improved since the athletics budgeting change, and why students were not told about this new position. He said, “I don’t take a vote on every position,” and that he can’t talk to everyone about every position.
Ross thanked everyone for coming, and the meeting concluded.