Rensselaer Union

Trustees: E-Board approval of Union director not required

Resolution asserts RPI president's authority over Union director employment

On Wednesday, September 27, Chairman of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Board of Trustees Arthur F. Golden ’66 sent an email to the RPI community and alumni to “eliminate any confusion about [the Union’s] governance.”

“The hiring (or firing) of the director of the Union—as is true for any important position at RPI—is the ultimate responsibility of RPI’s president, and I and the Board want and expect Dr. Jackson to make that decision,” Golden wrote.

He claims that the Union has changed since his time here. The Union is “more intertwined with RPI’s educational programs” and “its annual budget is now in the millions of dollars.” While Golden and President Shirley Ann Jackson expect to continue, in Golden’s words, the “lab course” that is the Union, appropriate supervision is considered a necessity.

Golden concluded the email with a resolution from the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees that aims to settle questions about where the “ultimate authority for the Union resides.”

The first declaration reads, “Any provision in the bylaws, constitution, charter, or other such rules, regulations, or governing documents of any Rensselaer-affiliated group that conflict with the Bylaws of the Institute are deemed unapproved by the Board and are superseded by the Bylaws to the extent they so conflict.” In addition, Article VIII of the Bylaws of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute states that “the president shall, as educational and administrative head of the Institute, exercise a general superintendence over all the affairs of the institution.”

Declaration two expands on the Bylaws with, “In accordance with the general superintendence authority over all affairs of the Institute delegated by the Board to the president of the Institute, any decisions on the hiring, formal reporting line, removal, and other terms and conditions of employment of the director of the Union are to be made by the Institute under the authority of the president.”

Taken together, the first two declarations create ambiguity around multiple subsections of the Rensselaer Union Constitution. Section 2, Item F reads, “[The Executive Board] shall approve the hiring and continuance of all administrative personnel of the Union.” As this may be in conflict with the Institute’s bylaws as expanded upon in declaration two, and declaration one deems any conflicting provisions as “unapproved,” Item F could be deemed “unapproved” by the Board of Trustees.

Additionally, some of the provisions of Article V of the Union Constitution are also potentially superseded, given declaration one. For example, “a majority of the Executive Board may bring charges against the director” may conflict with declaration two’s affirmation of the president’s ultimate authority over the “terms and conditions of employment” of the director of the Union. It is unclear if the Union Constitution’s outlining further restrictions on the powers of the director also conflicts with declaration two, leaving the validity of the Article V provision, “the director may not veto any Executive Board action,” in question.

In declaration three, student government is “requested to take appropriate action to ensure the Rensselaer Union Constitution, and any other documents governing the affairs of the Rensselaer Union, are brought into conformance with the declarations of this Resolution” in order to “avoid continued misunderstanding.” To modify the Union Constitution, the Student Senate must pass an amendment with a two-thirds majority. Then, a majority of voting students must approve the amendment in an election.

If the requested amendment were to fail, the Bylaws of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute would still supersede the Union Constitution.

Update (October 4): This article has been updated to reflect the version printed in the October 4 issue of The Poly.