Letter to the Editor

Transformation?

Dr. Jackson,

I received your letter requesting a donation to the Rensselaer Annual Fund.  In it, you indicate that you have “transformed” the Institute and wish to carry this transformation through into broader society.

I must agree with your premise of transformation. The Institute is an entirely different university today than it was a few short decades ago. The Institute has systematically concentrated and centralized power in the Board of Trustees and the Office of the Provost.  It has overridden the will of the Faculty Senate and the Executive Board of the purportedly student-run Union.  In so doing, it has disregarded the needs and desires of both the faculty and the student body.

In the process, the Institute has also undermined numerous bylaws, constitutional provisions, and other internal policies, in both letter and spirit.  It has shown utter contempt for its own rules, as meticulously documented by the American Association of University Professors in 2010.  More recently, and more troublingly, the Institute has suppressed the speech of its students to such a degree that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education felt the need to send the Institute three separate letters accusing it of the same, all within a single semester.

The Institute has every legal right to transform itself in this fashion. What is legal need not be ethical.  I have no desire to see these patterns replicated outside the Institute’s walls, and therefore feel no need to make a donation at this time.

Sincerely,

Kevin Norris
Class of 2014

P.S. I will not discuss the substance of Dr. Bystroff’s letter. He is clearly addressing alumni older than me, who did not attend RPI for four years under your presidency, and so I am not in a position to respond. Much digital ink has already been spilled on the subject in any event. I would like to note, however, that I wrote the body of this letter around Thanksgiving, long before receiving anything from Dr. Bystroff.

I am certain that Dr. Bystroff wrote his letter with the best of intentions. However, the context and timing of its release is extremely disturbing. It gives the (false) impression that the Institute is “playing the race card” in response to a negative PR event, which furthers the misleading narrative that there is such a thing as “the race card.”  Directing it at alumni, through a channel normally reserved for solicitations of money, is suggestive of an Institute suffering a foundational lack of empathy towards its broader community.  It evokes the very image Dr. Bystroff is attempting to contest, and does the Alumni Association no favors.  Their non-apology un-endorsement was disappointing but unsurprising. I trust that the institute will be more PR-conscious and less transparent in the future. Such is the nature of your transformation.