Letter to the Editor

Student-run Union principles belittled

Board of Trustees Chairman Arthur Golden’s letter of September 27 regarding the hiring of the director of the Rensselaer Union was legally educational but totally missed the mark. He has made it clear to one and all that the president has absolute and final authority over hiring at RPI, which everyone always knew to be the case for the Union director, but in the spirit of self-determination and respect, not exercised. With this, the Trustees’ Executive Committee and the president reverse what is one of the long-term successes of RPI—a Union funded and managed by the students for the benefit and enrichment of the broad RPI community. Why is this happening? We don’t really know, so at least share with us one good reason why over 50 years of working precedent cannot be fixed without usurping student power.

Golden demeans the success of the Union and the student body by calling it an experiment. By any measure, it is a success and his description is a convenient way to justify this heavy-handed action. (Would he feel comfortable calling the Board’s governance an “experiment” over the same time period?) He doesn’t display much knowledge of the Union’s history and economics when he misses the fact that the budget has been in the millions for decades, and 50 years of educational inflation would multiply the budget approximately 15-fold. All of this avoids the core question: does the Board and administration support the core mission and model of student governance of the Union? If the answer is yes, and I pray that it is yes, then true leadership by the Board would entail supporting and guiding the students if there is a real issue at hand, instead of a legalistic power grab we now witness.

This is the first note I have received from Golden and his choice of subject and timing is strange. He communicates what is probably the end of one of RPI’s true differentiators, and he does this literally on the eve of a major capital campaign that has many of us returning to campus. I wish he would turn his attention to the more difficult issues such as the fact that, even after a $1.4 billion capital campaign nine years ago, the endowment has basically been flat, debt has increased dramatically, and investment returns are well below par. As experiments go, the Institute’s finances appears to be a much riskier one than Union governance.

Steven Silberstein ’76

Former Union Executive Board Member