Faculty applauds updates at Spring Town Meeting
The Rensselaer community went to the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center on March 23 to listen to the Spring Town Meeting, presented by President Martin A. Schmidt ’81. Schmidt’s presentation focused on future finances and making RPI more appealing to faculty. After the presentation, the meeting opened up to questions from the audience. Below are some major takeaways.
Schmidt expects to not operate at a budget surplus until FY 2028.
Before revealing the forecasted fiscal year five years from now, Schmidt started with FY 2023. Schmidt predicts to bring $423.8 million in revenue, while spending $441.8 million. The deficit is due to an unexpected increase in pension payments. Earlier in the fiscal year, Schmidt planned for $6 million in payments, but the actual amount necessary was $17 million. He believes that the two biggest causes were “poor performance in the market” and a “growth in interest rates.” The $11 million shortfall will be covered by RPI’s reserves.
Later, Schmidt showed projected net budget results up to FY 2028. RPI will be operating at a net budget deficit in FY 2023 and FY 2025 while operating at a balanced budget for FY 2024, FY 2026, and FY 2027. “It is a strong sign of support from the Board of Trustees that they are willing to entertain this investment proposition, but it is going to be incumbent upon us to continuously monitor the progress and make adjustments as needed. [It is] my commitment to you that [I will make updates] on a regular basis,” Schmidt explained.
Administration intends to return to a full-size faculty starting FY 2024.
Reflecting on the period 2010-2015, Schmidt says RPI averaged “about 350 tenured and tenure-track faculty and about 1,300 staff.” At the beginning of this year, there were only 285 tenured and tenure-track faculty and 1,081 staff. The FY 2024 budget has money allocated to allow for 350 faculty and 1,279 staff. The budget for fiscal years thereafter will have the money to support that amount of staff as well. Additionally, graduate student stipends will be increased by 5.3 percent.
Changes are being made to make RPI more competitive for faculty.
Another takeaway from the town meeting was that RPI is putting in changes to make working at the Institute more appealing. One way RPI is achieving this goal is by faculty dependents' increasing tuition remission from 75 percent to 90 percent. Furthermore, faculty will no longer be charged PTO time when the school is closed for holiday break. Juneteenth will also be added to the faculty holiday calendar starting in FY 2024.
Schmidt explains why he did not recognize the RPI RA Union immediately.
Schmidt first announced the making of an RA meal plan that will add $800,000 in fiscal year budgets when fully implemented. He then explained why he did not recognize the RA Union:
“I decided that we should not voluntarily recognize the RA Union and rather proceed with an election. My thinking on this was that even though they presented a petition signed by 75% of RAs, I did not feel it was appropriate for the administration to take away from all the RAs the right to vote in a free, fair confidential election…I believe it’s important that every RA participate in the election. In some cases, an RA will be making decisions for future RAs…The key point is that the election will be decided by the majority of those who vote, not a majority of the RAs. For this reason, I very much hope all the RAs exercise their right and responsibility so that the vote represents all RAs…I believe that working cooperatively together we have greater flexibility to address our shared concerns, but regardless of the outcome, we can and will do everything we can to address the concerns that have been raised.”
Schmidt also took questions from the audience, one of which asked about how feasible it is to invest in infrastructure. Schmidt answered that this would require “hundreds of millions of dollars” and be a “decade long plan.” In helping fix infrastructure now, Schmidt said it is more worthwhile to invest in the right people who can help make these more complicated plans.
In short, Schmidt presented sweeping changes in his first Spring Town Meeting. While light on changes that directly affect undergraduate students, the changes in progress should make being an undergraduate student at RPI a better experience.
An earlier version of this article said that graduate student stipends would increase in a range between 3 to 5 percent. This has been corrected to say that the graduate student stipends will increase 5.3 percent. The Polytechnic apologizes for this error. This correction was issued at on March 29.