RENSSELAER UNION

Union Fund holds potential for change

THIS FILE PHOTO PICTURES the Rensselaer Student Union prior to the protest that took place last March.

On Saturday, October 8, a new Reddit user, /u/rpiunionfund, posted a link to a new website https://poly.rpi.edu/s/sjdr describing a proposal by Rensselaer alumni to create a fund that would take donations in the name of Rensselaer Union clubs, and disburse them once a year to the Union. What makes this concept different from the existing mechanism to donating to the Union through WeRGold, or even through https://poly.rpi.edu/s/werct is that donated funds would only be disbursed to the Union if certain critera related to student governance are met. In the current proposed charter on the rpiunion.fund website, conditions for dispersal of funds include significant student input in professional staff hiring, club and organizational budget formation, activity fee disbursement, and student say in major policies affecting student life at RPI.

Presently, the fund is still in the beginning stages of its conception. However, they are accepting non-binding pledges from RPI alumni to see what level of interest there is in sustaining the fund. There is also a proposed charter on their website that could potentially serve as the legal formation for the fund. In addition to criteria laid out on their website about disbursement of funds to Union, it also defines a Board of Trustees who would be responsible for the maintenance of the fund throughout the year. The current plan is for the Board to have four current students and three alumni. Students would have two-year terms while alumni would have four. The Grand Marshal would appoint students to the Board, and alumni would elected from donors to the fund. This way, students would form the majority of the Board and have the ultimate say on any actions the fund decides to take. The Board would also elect a president and a treasurer; the president would be the public representative of the fund, and the treasurer would be responsible for managing the assets of the fund.

A reporter from The Poly reached out to the movement via email and received a response back from August Fietkau ’09. Fietkau elaborated on the reasoning behind on why the charter has been set up the way it has. He reiterated that the fund is only in the beginning stages of its conception, and that most of it is subject to change based on the feedback of people who pledge money to the fund. He wrote that the group behind the fund reached out “discreetly with a number of current and recent student leaders and club officers” in order to get the feedback needed to form the charter as it appears on the website currently.

Fietkau also discussed how the fund would be able to be an acceptable source of income for the Union. Union funds are ultimately controlled by Institute financial processes so the fund would need to reach an agreement with the Institute in order for its contribution to be accepted by the Union. He said that as of now those responsible for the fund have not started these conversations because they are still focusing on reaching out to a wider net of alumni and more fully fleshing out their ideas. Fietkau made it clear that the fund is not meant to be “a vehicle for withholding money from RPI out of frustration or anger,” but rather as way for alumni to “dogfood the sort of shared governance we are asking RPI to engage in vis-a-vis the Union.” Fietkau said conversations with necessary Institute officials would happen when the fund as a concept is more mature and closer to implementation.

Finally, he elaborated on the fact that fact while the RPI Union fund and the Save the Union student protest movement are not formally connected, that the alumni behind the fund “value the concerns brought up by a great many of the students” but that postering and letter writing themselves do little to combat the issue. He made the distinction that while students involved in Save the Union have their lives “intertwined with a student-run Union,” alumni are more removed from the day-to-day operations of RPI but that they desire to provide perspective and support through the fund.