Letter to the Editor

Championing our student leadership

It is beyond clear that the guiding vision for Rensselaer’s future is to become an impactful force for global change. This is why I am alarmed that the greatest transformative cornerstone of this university is recognized as anything less than the pride and the centerpiece of that vision.

I am writing, of course, about the Rensselaer Union. There is more to this saga than a miscommunication or a question of legal authority; the Union’s student run nature manifests in the freedom of choice enjoyed by student leaders. The recent challenges to this principle call into question the true nature of leadership, and the fundamentals of personal growth—values core to the ongoing evolution of Rensselaer.

Individual transformation may appear in many forms, but leadership and passion must always emerge from the deepest confines of a person’s will. To be transformative, to evoke the brand of leadership Rensselaer aims to create, we cannot merely expose the brilliant engineer to opportunities in their field, or give the dedicated scientist a structured curriculum to pursue. To ignite their passion, we must do more than offer world-class programs that stimulate learning, or create a measured environment for growth and exploration. The art of leadership cannot be taught in a lab; it must be hunted through the bright summits of success and the shaded valleys of failure. Leadership can only be learned by doing.

This approach has borne results; the freedom to advocate and innovate has had a tangible, irreplaceable impact on Rensselaer. Important academic programs, such as course midterm assessments, have been developed by the Student Senate. Institute policies for inclement weather, signage, sick leave, and many more have been negotiated at the initiative of student leaders. Many of our traditions, including Hockey Line, Red Army, and Big Red Freakout, were started by innovative grand marshals. Impactful business ventures—such as the upgraded Rensselaer Collegiate Store and Moe’s Southwestern Grill—were the result of partnerships established and led professionally by the Executive Board.

These indelible facets of our community and our identity owe themselves to the student-run Union. Students’ liberty to experiment, to challenge, and to take the lead, are the heart and soul of Rensselaer.

This is the essence of why the Union matters; this is precisely why it must remain student run. The freedom of the Executive Board to craft budgets based entirely on student ideas allows aspiring entrepreneurs to innovate and take risks, and enables potential managers to learn fiscal responsibility. The freedom of the Student Senate to advocate for changes in policy or new campus programs allows aspiring community leaders to experience high-impact political advocacy. These are raw, fundamental lessons of leadership that cannot be learned in a lab; they are enabled entirely by the expressions of free will and shared governance embodied by a student-run Union.

What can be a more powerful legacy?

Only by giving students control of their own destiny can we truly inspire the next generation of leaders to grow, thrive, and succeed. Thanks to the Union, RPI goes beyond producing engineers—it enables entrepreneurs. RPI not only encourages hard workers—it motivates self-starters. RPI doesn’t just instruct students about the principles of leadership—it proudly inspires them to become leaders themselves. There is no legacy that could be greater for this school. There is no better way for Rensselaer to have an impact on the world.

Creating a structure that allows the historic student leadership of the Union to continue, while meeting the professional necessities of the Division of Human Resources, would be simple—require the Executive Board’s approval on any director candidate before the candidate is sent to the president for a final hiring decision. Clarify that the director’s purpose remains true to the Constitution we enacted in 2015. It is to advise student government organizations, not to manage, instruct, or overrule them. Arrange a once-per-semester meeting between the grand marshal and the chairperson of the Board of Trustees to enable productive communication about the quality of student life. These simple steps, maintained in good faith, would form the foundation of a collaborative relationship between all stakeholders of this community.

It is my belief that true leadership is borne of our ability to empower others. By embracing this principle, RPI has so little to lose, and so much to gain. I urge President Jackson, Chairman Golden, and the Board of Trustees to come together with the students of this great school, take pride in their will to change the world, and embrace their passion for the Rensselaer community. Their ideas, much like your own, all build toward a vision of a proud Rensselaer. Let debate be the crucible that forges progress, the virtuous contest of ideas that allows this community to build towards a stronger future, together. Welcome the free voice of students, and RPI will prosper. Champion the student-run Union as a core pillar of the Rensselaer Plan, and you will find the vision of a transformative Rensselaer shines brighter than ever.

Kyle Keraga ’15

149th Grand Marshal

Delta Phi, Lambda Chapter

Proud Alumnus of RPI