In an email to the Rensselaer community, President Shirley Ann Jackson spoke about changes to communication and Student Life moving forward.
Jackson opened her email saying that it was “truly wonderful to hear from so many interested members of our community.” She received a large number of responses after her invitation to contact her office during the most recent spring Town Hall Meeting.
In that meeting, students, faculty, and alumni expressed concerns about the Institute, including the communication situation between students and administrators and the future of the Rensselaer Union.
In regards to communication, Jackson said “I will meet each semester with the Grand Marshal and President of the Union, with at least one meeting including a broader group of students.”
This is in stark contrast to her statement made during the meeting, when she said “I’m not going to promise that I’m going to go back to a specific periodicity that we had before.”
On the topic of the Union and the proposed hiring of an Executive Director of Student Activities, Jackson said that “some students and others feared that the Administration was attempting to diminish the historic autonomy of the Union, which was never our objective.”
She went on to say that the Institute will no longer be seeking to hire an Executive Director of Student Activities, and that the search for a Director of the Union will resume with increased student involvement.
She concluded, “Rensselaer is a very special place. We value the contributions of all who live, work, and learn here. In the future, we will take great care to solicit those contributions as often and as widely as possible.”
The email was well received by students. In the /r/RPI subreddit on the social media site Reddit, the post of the email text quickly reached the top of the page. In the comments, users were proud of the work the community has done and felt that their efforts translated into real progress.
The full text of the email reads as follows:
To: The Rensselaer Community
From: Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy
Professor of Engineering Sciences
Re: Message from the President
Date: April 26, 2016
At the Spring Town Meeting on March 30, some students expressed a desire for more communication and interaction with me. I invited students to contact my office in order to schedule meetings. The response has been tremendous, and it is truly wonderful to hear from so many interested members of our community. As much as I would like to, it is not feasible for me to hold meetings with each student, individually. However, I have heard the requests and, in response, I am committed to enhancing what I currently do.
Going forward, I will meet each semester with the Grand Marshal (GM) and President of the Union (PU), with at least one meeting including a broader group of students. I will update the campus community regularly on important topics, and will provide information about key decisions and issues with more frequency. We also will include, and rotate in, a number of additional student leaders, along with the GM and PU, and other student representatives, as participants in the Board of Trustees Student Life Committee meetings. In order to open these committee discussions to our entire community, the minutes (or a summary thereof) of the Board Student Life Committee meetings will be published. Finally, in response to student requests, we have posted the Institute By-Laws on the website: http://rpi.edu/president/bot/By-Laws.pdf.
As I always have, I will continue to participate in various campus activities. I look forward to these regular opportunities to interact with our students at events such as the town meetings, the campus holiday party, the holiday concert, the senior banquet, the junior ring ceremony, the GM/PU breakfast, family weekend, reunion and homecoming, the ROTC joint service awards, athletic banquets, and, of course, football and hockey games, and other athletic events, as much as possible.
At our annual Spring Town Meeting, I put aside my prepared remarks to address a group of students who had concerns about the future of the Student Union. These concerns stemmed from our posting ads for two positions, the Director of the Union and an Executive Director for Student Activities. The latter was a new Student Life position designed to increase support of, and communications with, our students. Unfortunately, some students and others feared that the Administration was attempting to diminish the historic autonomy of the Union, which was never our objective.
In response to the concerns expressed, I suspended both hiring searches and asked the Board of Trustees to review the Student Union situation, and to speak with students directly.
Since then, the Chair of the Board of Trustees and the Chair of the Student Life Committee of the Board have met with a representative group of students, including the Grand Marshal, the President of the Union, and other student leaders—as well as faculty members, including the Chair of the Faculty Senate—in order to hear their thoughts directly.
At the meeting, both Chairs explained that the Board has overall responsibility for the Institute, while the President’s authority, as delegated by the Board, is to manage all of the units of the university (including the Student Union).
I also have met with the Grand Marshal, and other groups of students. Having heard and understood the concerns of many, especially our students, but also those of our alumni/alumnae and the Faculty Senate, I have authorized the following. We will not create, or hire into, a position of Executive Director for Student Activities. Instead, we will move forward with the hiring of the Director of the Union as part of the Student Life portfolio, with responsibilities to manage the Union facilities, and to work with the Union Executive Board and the Student Senate.
Therefore, the search for the Director of the Union will resume, with more student involvement, as communicated earlier by the Vice President of Student Life. Further, should a review of the Constitution proceed, it would follow the process currently outlined in the constitution. The goal of such a review would be to ensure that the Student Union constitution accurately reflects the way the Union actually operates, and that it is consistent with all other policies of the Institute.
Both the Board of Trustees and the Administration encourage continued open communication among campus constituents. We want to hear from all the members of our community, to ensure that any decisions we make reflect their interests, and the greater good of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Rensselaer is a very special place. We value the contributions of all who live, work, and learn here. In the future, we will take great care to solicit those contributions as often and as widely as possible.