TOP HAT

Regarding recent developments with the Union

To my fellow classmates:

Our school has been home to one of the last student-run unions in the United States for quite some time. By now, I am sure you have had the opportunity to read the message from Chairman of the Board of Trustees Arthur Golden and the attached resolution from the Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee. Like many of you, I was greatly disappointed by both the stance of the letter and the ramifications of the declarations, as no input was sought from students and the sentiment expressed a loss of faith in the student body’s ability to responsibly self-govern the Union.

I would like to take a moment to share why and how a student-run union has been impactful to our entire community—students, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators alike. Through a student-run union, our students have had the liberty to build their own meaningful experiences through freedom of choice; the persona of our Union frequently morphed as generations of students made it their own. They built and grew clubs and organizations based on their interests and developed leadership skills in the process. They defined policies for Union operation. They met friends for lunch, conducted their banking, sought legal services, and shopped at the bookstore. For many, it was, and always will remain, a home away from home. All of these cherished qualities and traits came about because our Union had been student-run. These exist within the Union because students took the initiative and had the power to make them happen, and that is only truly possible through a student-run union. Our student-run Union was the student experience at RPI. Until the recent resolution, we had the opportunity to have experiences similar to those of the students who came before us.

The Rensselaer Union thrived under student operation for over 127 years. Its main building was constructed in 1965 after the student body decided, by referendum, to increase the Union Activity Fee to fund it. The Union’s role in our lives as students here far surpasses any individual academic or extracurricular program. Even if you have only been on campus for a few weeks, I imagine you’ve already played a game of billiards in the games room, studied at a table in the Rathskeller, or enjoyed lunch in the McNeil Room because our Union serves as the living room of the campus—a place made by the students, for the students.

The Rensselaer Union Constitution was enacted to govern our Union and served as the ultimate example of collaboration between students, administrators, and the Board of Trustees. This document depicts the role students played for well over a century to give our Union its honored student-run distinction. Additionally, it outlines the defined process for modification that includes steps the student government, student body, administration, and trustees shall take. Upon its inception, the Union Constitution embodied the gold standard for involvement and collaboration across our Institute and fostered shared governance. With this in mind, I am concerned that the recent events set a precedent for this collaboration to end, whereas the Union Constitution demonstrates that these decisions should be made collectively.

I have examined the situation with many students, members of the Student Senate and Executive Board, faculty, and alumni in hopes of building a plan for moving forward in light of this resolution. At this point, we have concluded that the provision in the Union Constitution outlining the Executive Board’s role in approving the hiring of Union administrative personnel remains in full effect, as the specification of approval does not conflict with the resolution’s declarations. However, we are currently working to determine what provisions of the Union Constitution were impacted by the resolution, if any. I have reached out to Chairman Golden and other administrators in hopes of addressing questions we have encountered during this process.

Many of you have contacted me to discuss your concerns and questions about the resolution, its immediate effects, and its long-term impact. The breadth of students raising concerns and weighing in reminds me of how fundamentally important being a part of a student-run union has been to each of us, regardless of how or where we participate. I know many of you have been adversely affected by these recent developments. If you are in need of support or simply someone to talk to, please reach out to the resources available across campus, including the Counseling Center. And, of course, you may also always reach me at gm@rpi.edu; I am carefully reading every message I receive and appreciate them all. Please share your input and opinions on the matter if you have not already. As always, I will keep you apprised of any developments.

Regardless of recent events, I urge you to conduct business as usual with our Union. For clubs, that means meeting and holding activities and programs that your members have come to rely upon and enjoy. For students, that means embodying what makes our Union the intricate and efficient enterprise that is admired and remembered fondly by our alumni. Please know that we are in this together as one Union; your student government is committed to representing your interests and priorities, especially those involving a student-run union. I have seen amazing things result from its members working on student-driven projects they are passionate about, and I believe our students can find solutions to current concerns by working together.

Like you, I am—and will continue to be—motivated by my undying love for our alma mater and a future for our Union.

Yours truly,

Justin Etzine
152nd Grand Marshal