Response to Senate’s Constitution resolution

To the Rensselaer Community,

On Monday, October 2, 2017, the Student Senate passed a resolution regarding the Rensselaer Union Constitution, claiming that there is no conflict between the Bylaws of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Union Constitution. The Graduate Student Council disapproves of this motion, with graduate senators vocally voting against this resolution. This action by the Student Senate is inconsistent with the Board of Trustees’ September 27, 2017 resolution, notably Declaration 3, which requested that the Rensselaer Union Constitution and any other documents governing the Rensselaer Union be brought into conformance with the Bylaws of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The Graduate Student Council acknowledges the authority of the Board of Trustees to request such changes be made to the Rensselaer Union Constitution and requests the Student Senate initiate the procedure required to comply with the Board of Trustees’ resolution.

The Graduate Senators sponsored a separate motion to this effect which failed to garner the requisite support for Senate approval. The differing perspectives between this motion and the motion that passed highlight a divide between the graduate and undergraduate student body on this issue. The Grand Marshal, who presides over the Senate, is the spokesperson for the entire student body—both graduate and undergraduate. However, given the composition of the Student Senate, no resolution can pass solely on graduate student support. On issues where the graduate and undergraduate senators disagree, the body will always decide in the favor of undergraduates. It is because of this reality that there are many on the Graduate Student Council who believe that the Student Senate, and by extension the Grand Marshal, have difficulty advocating effectively for the graduate student body. In the aftermath of these events, the Graduate Student Council will examine options to better promote the interests of the Graduate Student Body outside of the Student Senate, starting with this letter.

The Graduate Student Council believes that the motion that was passed by the Student Senate does not build upon the growing relationship between the graduate student leadership and the Institute’s administration. Cooperation between the Graduate Student Council and the Rensselaer administration in the past three years has resulted in significant improvements to the experience of graduate students at Rensselaer. The increases in the minimum academic year stipend for graduate students shows a sensitivity to the needs of graduate students and a recognition of their value to the teaching and research conducted at Rensselaer. Increased services tailored to graduate students from the Center for Career and Professional Development and a renewed focus on external fellowship and funding application support from the Office of Graduate Education ensure graduate students at Rensselaer have the tools necessary to succeed when applying for highly competitive and prestigious awards. The creation of the dean of graduate experience position and Colleen Smith’s appointment to the position represents Rensselaer’s commitment to the success of graduate students. Since joining Rensselaer in 2015, Smith has consistently advocated for graduate students and led initiatives that have become integral to the Rensselaer graduate student experience, such as the Graduate Research Symposium. In conclusion, the Office of Graduate Education and the Institute’s administration have shown a consistent interest in the growth and professional development of graduate students, and this growth was fostered by effective cooperation between the Graduate Student Council and the Institute’s administration.

The Graduate Student Council acknowledges that graduate student education at Rensselaer relies on programs whose funding will be supported by Rensselaer’s new capital campaign and believes this campaign will be critical to the actualization of the Rensselaer Plan 2024. We recognize this institution’s impressive effort in securing the support we need to take our research and educational model forward, and encourage all to support it.


The Graduate Student Council