Director of the Union hiring process detailed

MEMOS RELEASED by the GM, PU, and members of the administration express the importance of student involvement in the director of the Union appointment. (file photo)

Since the release of Vice President for Human Resources Curtis Powell’s memorandum on September 12, discussion around the director of the Union hiring process has continued.

On the same day, his memo was met with a joint response from Grand Marshal Justin Etzine ’18 and President of the Union Matthew Rand ’19 that emphasized the authority of the Union Executive Board to approve a candidate for the position before an appointment can be made.

Etzine and Rand wrote that, by approving the Rensselaer Union Constitution, the Board of Trustees has “delegated the authority to ‘approve the hiring and continuance of all administrative personnel of the Union’ to the Rensselaer Union Executive Board.” The word “approval” is significant; it implies that the voice of the E-Board is not simply “input,” but rather a crucial step in the process. A candidate for the director of the Union that is not approved by the E-Board cannot be appointed to the position.

On September 20, Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Travis Apgar sent a letter to Etzine and Rand expressing that “there is no conflict between the authority of the Institute and that of the Union in this matter.” He detailed his perspective of the hiring process, stating that student involvement is required, especially through the “input” of the E-Board that is “formalized by a vote.” He added that “it is inconceivable that a decision would be made in opposition to the voice of the students.”

However, some people are concerned that this doesn’t fully capture the issue at hand. The appointment of former Director of the Union Joe Cassidy was made without a vote of approval from the Executive Board, and while this was not explicitly “in opposition to the voice of the students,” it was still not in accordance with the Union Constitution.

On September 25, Etzine and Rand sent an email to club officers about a meeting that took place on September 21 with Powell, Apgar, and representatives from the Division of Human Resources. During that meeting, the GM and PU expressed student concerns about the hiring process and emphasized the role of the E-Board in the appointment of the next director of the Union. As a result, they plan to release a joint letter to the Rensselaer community that will “[outline] the steps that have been taken, as well as the steps that will be taken through the completion of the hiring process.” Etzine and Rand also shared their plans to meet with President Shirley Ann Jackson on Wednesday, September 27. They hope to find a “collaborative solution” to the issue at hand.

When asked for comment, Etzine expressed, “Progress is being made by Matt’s and my efforts to make our position clearly known with administrators.” He then elaborated on the E-Board approval process, saying that, “the meaning of approval in this context is ‘to ratify’ or ‘to give formal sanction to;’ though, of course, this is not the sole approval.” When the interview process is over, the Human Resources Interview Committee will propose a motion concerning the approval of a candidate to the E-Board, which will then be discussed and voted upon in a closed meeting. According to the E-Board’s bylaws, the motion and vote count will be released after the end of the closed meeting. Etzine hopes that the decision of the E-Board will be respected, and that if it fails to approve a candidate, the Division of Human Resources will find others to consider.

The Human Resources Interview Committee was only presented with two of the approximately 50 candidates that RPI received from William Spelman Executive Search, according to Interim Chairperson Michael Cuozzo ’17. Apgar and Interim Vice President for Student Life LeNorman Strong helped narrow the pool down to the two candidates that were invited for on-campus interviews. According to Cuozzo, “members of the committee did not feel that a one-hour interview provided sufficient time to fully learn about the candidates.” They wished to extend the interview through a video conference, but this was met with reluctance by Powell. However, Etzine has submitted additional questions on behalf of the committee in an attempt to remedy the situation.

In the interviews that have already taken place, members of the committee had the opportunity to review resumes, recommendation letters, and example materials, as well as ask questions that they personally developed. Former Grand Marshal Paul Ilori ’17 and former President of the Union Chip Kirchner ’17 were able to write the job posting and create the student-generated list of desired qualities that was used as a pre-screening rubric, but Rand “would have loved to have more student involvement in narrowing the candidate field.” If he were to change anything, Rand would have asked for himself and Etzine to be more involved in the pre-screening, and “potentially to have sat in on the interviews for the second to last interview stage.” Regardless, he believes that the E-Board will be able to make an informed decision on whether or not to approve candidates for the next director of the Union position.

The Human Resources Interview Committee is expected to bring forward a recommendation in the coming weeks, at which point the E-Board will potentially vote to approve the next director of the Union.