Letter To The Editor

Responses to student concerns at Spring Town Meeting misleading, disappointing

By Save the Union March 28, 2018

To the RPI Community:

According to Dr. Jackson, the concerns of hundreds of students are nothing more than over amplified dissent, worthy only of a dismissive acknowledgement.

On Wednesday, March 21, Dr. Jackson attended a “Leadership Luncheon” hosted by the Times Union in which the current controversies on RPI’s campus were among the topics discussed. In response to a question about the disturbing trends on campus, Jackson shrugged it aside, saying, “Our students are a very quiet student body. But there is a social media amplification effect that can occur, and I would say that 95 or more percent of our students are just going about their business … And these students are still getting a great education, and what they are learning even as a part of dissent is a part of their education.”

The RPI student body numbered 7,633 students last year. Even if we assume Dr. Jackson has not seen photos or videos from either of our major demonstrations during the last two years—both of which drew about 1,000 students—five percent of the student body still represents over 380 students. How does one overlook 380 concerned students, let alone 1,000 deeply concerned, peacefully protesting students?

Perhaps the administration hopes for a return to a new version of that old adage: that students should be seen but not heard. Dr. Jackson’s statement seems to indicate a preference for students that are quiet automatons, rather than face the feedback of students who engage in critical thinking. After all, why engage in meaningful conversation, when ignoring and minimizing the concerns of hundreds of students remains an option?

During her Spring Town Meeting, Dr. Jackson spent the first portion of the Q&A period addressing a flyer we had distributed outside of the venue prior to the event. Notably, our exercise in freedom of expression, which Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Relations Richie Hunter would ironically soon defend in the meeting by saying, “we are completely supportive of freedom of expression,” couldn’t occur without the watchful presence of Public Safety in addition to multiple judicial administrators from the Dean of Students Office. We might’ve even enjoyed conversing with them, had they not been trying so hard to distract us from handing out the very flyer that became the focal point of the meeting, stimulating many questions from the audience. While we were encouraged by our issues being addressed, the administration’s responses to each of our points were at best disappointing, at worst, misleading.

In response to our concerns about her unavailability, Dr. Jackson admitted she no longer meets with student leaders or the student body with the same frequency, as we had correctly stated on our flyer. But in a sudden convolution of our statement, she pursued an alternate assertion, proclaiming, “and so it is simply an untruth to try to propagate that I do not meet with the students,” despite our flyer never alleging anything of the kind.

Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Travis Apgar responded to our point about class councils no longer being able to email their class lists. He commented, “They don’t have direct access,” while sidestepping the fact that they did have direct access prior to this semester. He enlightened the audience with his reasoning for this, explaining, “email, first, is not the more effective way [to communicate],” and that “students are bombarded with hundreds of emails” on a daily basis. But despite knowing this information about email apparently being a poor method of communication, it is still the primary method by which Dr. Jackson and the administration communicate with the RPI Community.

While speaking about the botched director of the Union search, Vice President for Human Resources Curtis Powell declared, “we’re not gonna tolerate what we went through the last time,” as though the administration had suffered the injustice. Yet, it was the students who were left out of the early stages of the process, censored from asking certain questions, and were fed multiple narratives fabricated by the administration for how one candidate had received a copy of the interview questions in advance, all while the students’ attempts to communicate were dismissed.

The most troubling comment from the Spring Town Meeting came from Dr. Jackson near its end, and it mirrors her statement earlier in the week. She said, “We also size the number of actual students who appear to be upset, and I would say that the vast majority of our students just go about their business every day.”

Dr. Jackson may not acknowledge it, but we are actual students, who have actually been removed from campus, had an actual wall built to keep us away from potential alumni donors, faced actual judicial charges, and most importantly, have actual grievances.

Indeed, we do share our concerns via social media. But it is not mere amplification. It is our actual voices.

And we think it is time for an actual conversation.

Save the Union