On November 29, William Spelman Executive Search posted a job opening for a position in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Division of Student Life, the Director of the Rensselaer Union, after nearly a year of heightened tensions following a protest against proposed Student Life changes this past April.
The posting was removed two days later on December 1 before 6:30 pm. In an email sent to The Poly, President of the Union Chip Kirchner said, “[the position posting] has been taken down from Spelman’s website until they are able to post a version that Paul and I edited and sent to HR. That posting was the result of a miscommunication somewhere in the line of people communicating between us and the search firm, though not really the fault of any particular person.”
The content of the job description included management of the Union budget, which is currently under the control of students serving on the Executive Board, directing student programs and activities, management of non-residential facilities, and providing “direction and administrative support” to student-led clubs and organizations. The Director of the Union would report to a newly-created Assistant Vice President for Student Experience and Dean of Students in the Student Life portfolio.
The move to initiate the search process for the Director of the Union position came without notice to student leaders and Union staff alike, with Grand Marshal Paul Ilori ’17 remarking “this is the first that [President of the Union] Chip and I have heard of the posting being completed and any clear schedule for its release. We have started communicating with administrators, sharing student concerns with the posting, and emphasizing the issues around the miscommunications that took place with this.”
The clear lack of communication between student leaders and administrators is nothing new and has garnered substantial attention from students. Most recently, this occurred with regard to athletics budgeting and the posting of the Executive Director of Student Activities Position last spring.
The Rensselaer Union is unique in its structure and autonomy and is one of the greatest sources of pride at the Institute, recognized as incredibly valuable by students, alumni, and outside analysts. The Middle State Accreditation Board in 2006 described the Union as “a justifiable source of pride for the Institute.”
Students and alumni have been quick to respond to the issue, posting on social media shortly following the introduction of the new position. Although no changes have been made to the Union’s budgeting process, many feel that the administration is attempting to assert control over the Union. Recently, this has led to a response from alumni with the creation of the RPI Union Fund, which hopes to disburse funds donated from alumni directly to Union clubs and activities. In addition, alumni expressed their concerns through an open letter addressed to the administration last year.
As of 5:11 pm on December 1, the job posting has been removed from William Spelman Executive Search. A PDF copy can be viewed below. It was previously available at http://www.wspelman.com/current/director-of-the-rensselaer-union/.
Update (December 7): This article has been updated to reflect the version printed in the December 7 issue of The Poly.