Specific updates to Handbook endorsed

At the end of September, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Travis Apgar, along with Director for Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Judicial Affairs Michael Arno, presented changes to the Rensselaer Handbook for Student Rights and Responsibilities before both the Rensselaer Union Executive Board and the Student Senate.

They presented the changes largely as updates to outdated policies and clarifications of existing policies. Some were deemed necessary in order to keep the Handbook in accordance with mandates from the state and federal governments.

The Senate voted to postpone the handbook’s endorsement until the next week’s meeting on both September 25 and October 2.

On October 18, the Student Life Committee met and discussed the proposed revisions. Students suggested changes, one of which was adding a provision to the “Sign Policy” that states “Any signs that do not violate the sign policy or have not passed the take-down date may not be removed by any part [sic], including the Institute.” Other suggestions included adding the term “neurodiversity” to the “Freedom of Access to Higher Education at Rensselaer” section and, in instances where Rensselaer-recognized organizations have been found to have served alcohol to underage individuals, replacing their subjection to a minimum “mandatory two-semester suspension” with “review by the Judicial Board that oversees that organization.”

During a Senate meeting on November 13, Student Life Committee Chairperson Hannah Merrow ’18 brought a motion regarding the proposed changes to the floor. She made clear that “there are specific differences” between the edits endorsed in the motion and the edits proposed to the Senate.

She stated, “Most of them are just either a change of wording, or taken out entirely, because the committee did not agree that those should be included.” She felt that “there was a lot of discourse on the edits to be made” and that the committee “did not feel comfortable moving forward, putting them in, without an increased student voice in the process.”

Specifically, one edit that included a change to the “Rules for Maintenance of Public Order” subsection “Procedures” was not included in the endorsement motion. It added the following sentence regarding demonstrations: “Only persons who are members of the Institute community (students, faculty, and staff) will be permitted to engage in such activities on Rensselaer property, and may only do so by complying with these procedures.”

One of the presented changes that was included in the motion removed all dates from the Student Handbook, and added a section in the introduction that states that review of the document will occur at least annually. It also added that Rensselaer may make changes at any time. Such changes will be “communicate[d] to the Rensselaer community,” but the specifics of that communication were not detailed.

In the motion, the SLC offered “necessary changes” that included adding the following paragraph to the end of the document’s introduction: “Changes to this Handbook shall be made if and only if there is direct involvement by the Student Life Committee and the changes are approved by the Student Senate by a two-thirds majority vote.”

On that subject, Grand Marshal Justin Etzine ’18 stated that “There’s definitely been opportunities for us to participate, and we’ve been promised involvements in the future, but from what I understand, it’s important to have some kind of codification of that so that stays past the people who are here right now.”

The Senate endorsed most of the other proposed edits, along with some “necessary changes” with a vote of 20-0-2. The full motion can be viewed at

Merrow provided the following comment to The Poly: “In regards to the whole situation, I see this as another step in silencing student voice on campus. When the administration originally met to discuss the changes at the beginning of August, no students were involved. When the edits were brought to the Senate, without specific wording, they wanted blanket support of all of them, and when I brought the changes the committee had come up with to [Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Travis] Apgar, he only took two of the many edits I had given to him, with a promise for further discussion on some others. All in all, Apgar hasn’t been receptive to student feedback and has forgone further meetings on the topic of the Handbook since our meeting.”