Withholding Union donations hurts students

By Matthew Rand March 28, 2018

Since its inception in 1890, the Rensselaer Union has been an organization dedicated to the advancement of students. It began, and still remains, as an organization by the students, for the students. When the Activity Fee was initiated as a self-imposed tax to provide the campus with communal opportunities, the founders of our Union never imagined their idea would turn into the organization it is today: an organization that remains a beacon on the hill for what college student unions can be in America.

However, our founders knew that they could not create their vision without support. That support came not only from students, but from the administration. Ever since then, the Union and the administration have worked hand in hand to further the student experience. The Union is not, and never has been, independent of the administration. The Union is a part of the Institute, and likewise, the administration is another part of the Institute as well. We are one group, all dedicated to the success of RPI. The daily operations of the Union are directly tied to the Institute, and vice versa. We are a single, intertwined unit with a shared purpose: giving the best to our students, everyday.

To that end, recent campaigns to cut off funding to the Institution have not left the Union unscathed. The Collegiate Store, which accounts for almost two thirds of the revenue the Union brings in, is not projected to hit its target numbers for the first time since the transition from the Union-backed Bookstore to the Follett-operated Collegiate Store.

The weR Gold campaign which is supporting 18 clubs and organizations this year—many of which receive financial support from the Union—is extremely low, with less than 40 days left in the campaign. Of the 18 organizations, only one has hit its goal thus far, and not a single other organization is more than halfway to their goal. For example, the RPI Dance Team, which currently receives funds from the Union, put out a weR Gold to fund their first trip to a national competition. However, due to the cost, they have had to fundraise a significant amount. The Union Executive Board provided them with additional funding beyond what is stipulated in the budgeting guidelines from contingencies, but each individual student is still paying around $500 for the trip, not including food. Their weR Gold, which aimed to help alleviate those costs, has barely raised 10 percent of the total cost of the trip to date. Without the support of this core business of the Union, and without this auxiliary support to our clubs and organizations, the Union is under more financial pressure than we have seen in recent years.

I respect the decision for students and alumni to hold the administration to a higher standard. It is the responsibility of our community to do so, and to demand the best from our leaders. However, I would ask that we change the tone of late. Instead of withholding donations, I would ask that everyone reconsider recent rhetoric, and instead consider donating to whatever made your time at Rensselaer meaningful. Whether that means donating to a specific research project, donating to a specific club or organization, or donating to a specific scholarship fund that afforded you the opportunity to join Rensselaer, I encourage you to focus on what made your time at Rensselaer so special. And that is not only money that can be donated. Your money, your time, and physical gifts can all go a long way toward providing our current students the same opportunities that you experienced in your time at RPI, or better.

Every person who feels passionately about the current campus climate feels that way for a reason. There is some club or program that made your Rensselaer experience unique. So I ask, instead of cutting off the Institute and hurting each and every student’s experience, donate to what was important to you. I know that once I graduate, I’ll be donating to our Union to ensure that the organization that made my time at Rensselaer so meaningful continues to grow and prosper, no matter what.

This past year has been a phenomenal experience for me, both personally and professionally. Every day, I aimed to represent our Union to the best of my abilities and ensure that our functioning stayed strong. I hope that I accomplished my goal, and I hope that my successor will continue that mission. I want to thank you all for making this year so meaningful, and hope that I did my best to represent you all and make you proud to call me the president of your Union.

Before I go, I would be remiss to not thank all of those who helped me throughout this year. The administrative staff of the Rensselaer Union are some of the greatest people I have ever known, and have been fabulous me ntors to me. For that, I thank you. I would like to thank my Executive Board, who donated so much time and energy towards improving the Union and ensuring their clubs and organizations were successful. And lastly, I would like to thank my vice president, Rasika Ekhalikar, who I could not have made it through this year without. Thank you for all of your time, dedication, and support; it allowed me to tackle the biggest issues facing the Union while ensuring the Board moved forward with business as usual. I could not have done it without you.

Thank you all for letting me be your president of the Union, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.