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Turning Point affiliation debated, undecided

The Union Executive Board held its last regular meeting of the semester on Thursday, November 16 with a rather full agenda, including a presentation, the consideration of new club affiliations, guest speakers, and discussion about payroll increases.

Rensselaer Collegiate Store Manager Ken Palmer was the first to come before the Board, with a Follett Corporation-branded presentation addressing the rising cost of various course materials. Palmer outlined numerous purchasing options and resources the bookstore offers, such as rentals and price matching, that aim to reduce the cost of course materials for students. However, he stressed that the most significant factor in determining prices is how timely faculty are in submitting their course material lists.

The store typically begins its planning for the new semester roughly six months in advance, but orders for materials cannot begin until faculty members submit their lists of materials. There are various integrations that Follett offers with the Learning Management System and Student Information System that aim to make this process easier, but in communications with the Division of the Chief Information Officer, Palmer stated that “[DotCIO hasn’t] fully understood the value” of them. Palmer also admitted that communication with faculty regarding the timeline for early course material submissions has been lacking, and he asked the E-Board for assistance in improving that communication. He said that the bookstore doesn’t have a direct forum to communicate with faculty, but that “It is being worked on in multiple fronts.”

Professor Bill Puka then came before the Board, first following up on Palmer’s presentation by commenting that faculty are reminded to submit their course material lists semesterly, but with no “given timeline or sense of urgency.” He added that if there were an explanation as to why the early submissions of course materials are so important, the faculty would be inclined to submit information sooner.

Puka has taught at Rensselaer for 36 years, and he mentioned that during that time, he’s become very interested in “students’s rights and students’s power at the school.” He mentioned his involvement with Save the Union and the protests.

Overall, he stressed that he would like to foster a proactive movement to make the Union an “indispensable” resource to the Institute. To accomplish this, he suggested an initiative he discovered through his wife called Shared Portals. The Portals, a project by Brooklyn-based company Shared Studios, are interactive spaces with audiovisual technology that connect with distant Portals to allow interaction between their users—as if they were in the same place together.

According to Puka, EMPAC Director Johannes Goebel expressed interest in creating a permanent Portal installation at EMPAC; however, he cited concerns over the lack of personnel needed to curate and maintain it. Puka mentioned that, under the control of the Union, a Shared Portal installation could be largely beneficial, bringing extensive news coverage and allowing students to connect with other cultures and individuals throughout the world.

Following Puka,  Milena Gonzalez ’20 and Grace Roller ’20 represented Coding&&Community, a club which works with students in New York State’s Science and Technology Entry Program to teach the fundamentals of computer science and encourage those students, the majority of whom come from historically underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and math, to pursue careers in these fields.

Coding&&Community currently has 15 active members, eight of whom are instructors, with goals to increase membership as future events are held. The representatives also mentioned plans to improve the club’s marketing to further increase membership and inform the Rensselaer community of their planned events, such as day-long workshops and hackathons.

A motion to recognize Coding&&Community as a Union-affiliated club passed unanimously, with a vote of 17-0-0.

At its prior meeting, the Board entertained a motion to recognize RPI’s chapter of Turning Point USA as a Union-affiliated club, which ultimately ended up being tabled until the next meeting. President of the Union Matthew Rand ‘19 mentioned that the Board felt there wasn’t enough information provided for it to come to a conclusion at the previous meeting. Rand possessed a document containing further information regarding Turning Point USA, which was addressed “strictly to the Executive Board.” Rand did not feel comfortable sharing it without Director of Student Activities Cameron McLean’s permission.

Rand was further questioned by members of the Board regarding the document. He stated that while it contained only public information, but the addressee was solely the E-Board, he still didn’t feel confident sharing it in an open meeting. A motion to close the meeting to have the E-Board privately discuss the document failed 0-16-1, due to concerns with alienating non-members present at the meeting.

Tatyana Fortune ’18, one of approximately 17 guests in the room to discuss Turning Point USA, mentioned she joined the RPI chapter’s Facebook page this past summer. She mentioned that, from her perspective, discussions on the page often ventured into social issues and social justice—discussions contrary to the club’s stated goal of discussing constitutional and fiscal issues.

Discussion further continued amongst Board members and guests around Turning Point’s national organization’s previous actions, and whether the Union should affliate a club with such “inflammatory” tendencies.

Sidney Kochman ’19 mentioned that while he believed some of the actions of Turning Point’s national body to be “utterly reprehensible,”  it would be “dangerous to deny a group Union-affiliated status based on the contents of their speech.” Similar comments followed from E-Board members, mentioning that the Executive Board is “not a partisan body,” and shouldn’t make decisions based on personal opinions.

A motion was then made to table further discussion until the end of the meeting, since the Turning Point USA discussion went far over its allotted time on the agenda, which passed 12-1-3.

Ultimately, when discussion resumed again later in the meeting, members cited a clause in the Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities that prohibits the Institute or the Rensselaer Union from denying access or reducing funds as a “means of censorship or suppression of any lawful activity.” The Board decided that it would be more comfortable having Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Travis Apgar, Director for Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Judicial Affairs Michael Arno, and McLean present to properly discuss the motion and the implications the Student Handbook may have on it. A motion to postpone the motion until the next available meeting time with those aforementioned individuals present passed 12-2-2.

Following the lengthy discussion of Turning Point USA, representatives of the RPI Playhouse came before the Executive Board asking first for a reallocation of funds to purchase new wireless microphones and receivers that are compliant with new Federal Communications Commission regulations that go into effect in December. The reallocated money would come from a reserve account originally budgeted for a sound system multiprocessor expansion, which RPI Players Technical Director Nick Karalexis ’19 said was no longer available from any of the Union’s approved vendors. A motion to reallocate $2,000 from the original budget for the multiprocessor expansion to the purchasing of new compliant equipment passes 16-0-1.

The Players, represented by the same individuals as the Playhouse, requested $900 to hire a choreographer for their upcoming spring musical. The Players’s Business Manager Anastasia Feraco ’19 mentioned that the choreographer from the spring 2017 musical failed to submit paperwork on time, and was instead paid from this fiscal year’s budget instead of last, leaving no money to pay for the spring 2018 choreographer. The Board then entertained a motion to give the Players permission to overspend their Goal C budget by $900; which passed 13-3-1.

The Players also requested permission from the Board to switch to a new ticketing and reservation system called Tix, which would grant the Players the ability to process ticket sales “more efficiently and professionally.” The Players intend to raise prices of tickets by $1 for in-person sales and $2 for online sales due to the associated fees of credit card processing. The Board granted permission to the Players to use Tix with a vote of 14-0-3.

The floor was then opened to representatives of UPAC Cinema, who came with a proposal to increase the wage of technicians from $10.40 per hour to $12.50 per hour, citing minimum wage increases mandated by New York State. New York’s minimum wage will increase yearly by $0.70 until 2020, and UPAC Cinema’s proposal will raise the rate directly to what it will be in 2020 so that further budgeting and pay rate adjustments would need not to occur until the 2020 fiscal year. A motion to approve the wage increase beginning in January 2019 passed with a vote of 17-0-0.

The discussion then expanded to include UPAC Lights, Sound, and Cinema who came with a proposal to utilize money from the student employment fund to pay trainees. Paying trainees is now necessary due to changes in regulations from RPI’s Human Resources department. As long as the number of trainees and duration of training doesn’t unreasonable exceed historical trends, the Board granted permission to pay trainees with a vote of 12-0-5.

The floor then opened to Director of the Mueller Center Steve Allard for the director’s report. Allard mentioned that things are moving along in hiring assistant directors. After closing the meeting, a motion was made by the Board to approve the recommended candidate for the position of assistant director of student activities pending approval from Human Resources and the Division of Student Life. It passed unanimously with a vote of 16-0-0.
This meeting was the last regular Executive Board meeting of the semester. Regular meetings will resume next semester.