Integrity is integral

Integrity is the trust that a set of people have in their, or others’, abilities to firmly adhere to moral values. This is the critical part of a regimen of an ethical code that assures us that our capacities will not fail us; to foster the growth of our moral character and therefore ourselves. The strong gravity of dignity tends to cloud our judgment of our self-reflection on our integrity, so this ability of critical introspection is lauded by society. Idealistically, this moral acumen is imbued into education such as the scholastic system at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute throughout your time in our community. However, integrity has become a maladroit afterthought crammed into syllabi, zero tolerance drug and alcohol policies focusing on penal action instead of rehabilitation, and judicial processes that start with the assumption of guilt.

Critical to a higher echelon of integrity is a quality of communication that speaks honestly of the truth and fairness of your constitution which relentlessly flows forward like water. As evident in the lack of response by RPI to three letters from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, the existence of a dam is apparent; we have no true north. The lack of response could be considered an incompetency, but that would require the assumption of being blind, deaf, and mute to all overtures in equal regards, no matter the topic. Evidence to contrary is as follows: ignoring the letter expressing disgust over the rejection of a peaceful demonstration while heralding presidential accolades in science; casting aside disconcerting letters of physically sequestering disagreement and prosecuting advocates of dissent while welcoming bigoted accounts of racism; rebuffing the condemnation of their actions suppressing free speech while merrily pushing a self-righteous, all-encompassing, one-sided “plan”; and justifying their assault of student rights with frivolous judicial cases under the guise of “trespassing” and “failure to comply” while RPI forces an agenda of self-bestowed off-campus jurisdiction to further control their desired veneer.

The education offered at this college is world class, but the administration is draconian. It is a consolidation of power, without remorse, from the people that live day to day in the community. Last semester, 10 years ago, it was announced that sophomores were required to live on campus in 2010. Next year is the start Summer Arch, with required on-campus living the summer before students’ sophomore and junior years. Our Winter Break will be shorter, despite the direct harm it will cause to transgender students, to foreign students, our mental health, and our peers with chronic health issues. Our class sizes have increased by 25% each with no increase in the presence of mental and physical health resources, and there are more “forced triples” in housing than ever before. This year, we ran out of guaranteed housing because we are stuffed with students while the college praises ever-growing numbers. The Union has lost control over the athletics budget, the Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities, hiring processes, and is paying for programs that it doesn’t even oversee. To be blunt, the action of this deceitful administration is ostentatious, Machiavellian, and a charade of the values of academia in higher education.

The encroachment of our rights will not end; it is an uncompromising wave that erodes our abilities and responsibilities.  To look upon this wave for guidance is not only naive, but self-destructive. We must reinforce the integrity of our community and the system that we as students have set forward. Even now, we are dragging RPI along with an open letter, asking the Board of Trustees to revoke an honorary degree given in 2001 to a now-convicted rapist who has drugged, molested, and penetrated women without their consent. 

Administrative integrity is a component of college education that has become scarce in modern higher education despite the increase in administration power over the decades, with an exemplar of this absence in our own community. Their dignity clouds their self-reflection, preventing them from seeing their faults and the concerns of the students. The students here are brilliant in reflection on how to work and improve with the community, not against it like our alma mater. The most earnest growth of character is in the ability to try, fail, and succeed with your peers, not supervised by any sort of risk mitigation, but rather by your friends and colleagues, that is a defining experience of college that everyone is entitled to. Cherish, protect, and foster autonomy, because once the freedom is gone, we will never get it back.

Michael J. Gardner, II
CSE/CS ’17, TC&E G ’18