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Letter to the Editor

Legal perspective on Golden’s letter

Having considered the letter from Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Attorney Golden to the RPI community, I thought I would share a few of my takeaways.  I point out the chairman’s profession as an attorney since the writings of attorneys tend to be different from that of a non-attorney: their words are chosen carefully.

First, towards the end of the first paragraph, Attorney Golden refers to “my, the Board’s and Dr. Jackson’s vision” yet, when discussing the Union specifically he states, “we spend many hours discussing ideas (mainly her ideas) for continuing the broadening and improvement of the student experience.” Hmmm, so is it their vision or her vision? Is Attorney Golden trying to give credit to Jackson, covering his butt, or giving us—the reader—insight into the lack of power of the Board members, even the chairman. This seems to reinforce what others have stated, that this Board is rubber-stamping whatever Jackson puts forth. From my perspective, if the Board is not going to be proactive, bringing in new ideas and concepts from the outside, then what is their value?

Secondly, at the beginning of the third paragraph, Attorney Golden makes note that “today’s Union is a much different entity than it was 50 years ago” and further indicates that the issues it now sees are far beyond “anything one could have imagined 50 years ago.”  Yes, that is so true.  But, by the same token, couldn’t the very same comment have been made 50 years ago relative to the early 1900s?  In support of his position, Attorney Golden speaks of the need to ensure that the Union  “comply with all applicable laws” and “act in a non-discriminatory way.”  Well, again, wasn’t that true of the Union 50 years ago?  In fact, that is true of each successive year the Union has existed as our federal and state legislatures are forever adding new laws and revising existing laws. So what’s new today? Further, I have to believe the Union has an attorney: if it doesn’t, it should, and one independent of RPI.

Third, at the beginning of the fourth paragraph, Attorney Golden speaks of “our vision and goals for the Union.” What about the students’ vision and goals of their Union? The Union is what it is because of the vision and goals of the student leaders and Executive Board that have run the Union all these years. I’d have to say they’ve done a great job, so why the need for a change and why is Attorney Golden’s, the Board’s, or Jackson’s vision any better?  Indeed, what is their vision? Where is the transparency?

Finally, Attorney Golden speaks of the resolution that the Board adopted “confirming the authority the president has, and has always had.”  All I can say is that in my law school days and in all my years of practice, I’ve always been taught, advised, and believed that one never exposes evidence of weakness in one’s position. If the president has the authority, even if somewhat questionable, simply state so and point to where the basis is for that authority.  By adopting this resolution, the Board is telling everyone that they do not believe the president has the authority or, at a minimum, that they are very unsure that she does. Regardless, even if the president did have the authority at the inception of the Union (or later by consent of the Union), the fact that the Union has operated independently from its inception over 100 years ago says that if the authority ever existed in the president, it was waived and is now lost.

Whatever path the student leadership of the Union takes, it should not amend its constitution or any other documents regarding its charter and operations to align them with RPI. Once the change is made, you and future generations will be stuck with it. The Union has funds, fight this! Go to Albany Law or elsewhere to seek help, seek donations from the RPI community, or even post a GoFundMe campaign. This is worth fighting for. Good luck.

Edward K. Welch II ’77