Union E-Board should prioritize transparency
Since resigning from the Rensselaer Union Executive Board, I have had a bunch of people ask me why. In the Board’s most recent meeting, President of the Union Matt Rand ’19 said that it was because of The Poly. To an extent, that’s true. The time commitments that I have—the largest of those is likely The Poly—prevented me from being as present as I wanted to be. But it wasn’t just that.
While copy reading articles in our office, I got to Rand’s Derby. For transparency, I made absolutely no changes to that article. I read it and felt the need to respond, so I let it go through our normal copy process and was as hands off as I could be.
On February 8, while I was still a member of the Board, amendments to the Special Rules of Order were proposed and passed. They required anyone recording Board meetings to “make it known to everyone present at the start of the recording” and to “immediately stop recording when asked to by the President.” They also gave the president of the Union the authority to request that all copies of recordings be deleted in his presence.
It further prohibited the livestreaming of any meetings. The end of the policy included the following statement: “These policies are adopted to ensure the privacy of any party presenting sensitive financial or personal information to the Board and to allow the Board to freely express its opinions without interruption from biased parties.”
The amendments passed with a vote of 15-1-1. I was the only person on the Board who voted no. This policy was later overruled by the Student Senate with a resolution that passed unanimously.
In his Derby, Rand responds to the confusion surrounding the Board’s decision. In it, he writes, “I want to be clear that the Executive Board did not act to restrict the rights of the public.” This is blatantly false. These meetings are open to the public. New York State law on recording is one-party consent, which gives anyone the freedom to record any phone call or conversation in which that person is involved. This includes public meetings of the Board. By requiring these recordings to be announced and giving Rand the authority to “request” that recordings be deleted, the Board is doing nothing but restricting the rights of the public.
Rand explains that the decision was made because it creates the “best possible environment for us to conduct business.” He later elaborates, “it helps protect the members of the Board who have to make these personal decisions.”
This topic came up multiple times while I was on the Board. When I moved to release the minutes from the closed meeting regarding the Outing Club, many members expressed that they didn’t want their individual names attached to their words. Frankly, this never made sense to me. Why are you on the Board if you cannot confidently—and publicly—stand behind the reasons for your decisions? Why are you on the Board if you do not want feedback on that reasoning so that you can improve for the sake of your constituency?
You are not a member of the Board for you. You are a member of the Board because people elected a president of the Union who stood for what they believed in, who they trusted with the million-dollar budget of the Union. The president of the Union then picked you, because he felt you were well-suited to accomplish his—and therefore the majority of the student body’s—goals. I am not saying that being a member of the Board should be a dreadful experience, but there are undoubtedly going to be difficult, uncomfortable times. When those times come, the Board should never prioritize their comfort over the fundamental rights of the student body.
So, yes, I did leave because of time commitments. But, I also left because I could not handle the Board’s near-unanimous desire to “freely express its opinions without interruptions from biased parties.” I could not handle the groupthink. I could not handle the exhaustion from being one of the only people on the Board unopposed to accountability and transparency. I tried my hardest to just fight the good fight and stick it out, but I couldn’t do it anymore.
On the bright side, your right to record and livestream public meetings has been reaffirmed by the Student Senate! Please exercise those rights and pay attention to the Board’s decisions—it is your money that they’re working with.