Genuine student input in Union director hiring: a right, not a privilege
As you may have seen from emails recently released by the administration, President Shirley Ann Jackson has appointed a director of the Union on August 8, 2018. We were only notified of the appointment the morning of the announcement when we spoke with administrators on phone calls.
This is the first update they have shared with us regarding the hiring process since early May. The Executive Board was not provided any opportunity to vote on the candidates being brought forward. In fact, the administration promised us this would not occur over the summer while the majority of students were absent from campus. This also follows numerous complaints from students regarding the improper process followed, which we directly conveyed to Interim Vice President for Student Life Le Norman Strong and Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Travis Apgar in April.
Furthermore, the administration has stated that the Union Activity Fee will be used to fund the position, even though financial policies of the Executive Board strictly prohibit this without an affirmative vote of the Executive Board. Additionally, contrary to a binding motion passed by the Executive Board, the administration has also opted to improperly reallocate office space within the Union for this purpose. These violations compound onto the countless unfulfilled promises made by administrators for Executive Board and student government involvement throughout the hiring process and further demonstrate the administration’s disregard for supporting student interests or our Union.
This is not the first time the administration has taken away the students’ ability to make decisions on how their Student Activity Fee is spent. In 2016, the administration forcibly removed the funding of intercollegiate athletics from the Union budget by claiming our Union’s budgetary processes did not comply with procedures from the National Collegiate Athletics Association, a claim which was never validated and is directly contradicted by NCAA guidelines.
We are appalled by this most blatant violation of student rights and the Rensselaer Union Constitution to date, and we censure this further attack on what once was a model for student-run unions across the country. Because of the level of severity at which the administration has violated the Union Constitution and, therefore, the Act of Incorporation passed by the New York State Legislature, we will be filing a formal complaint with the Board of Regents of the New York State Education Department regarding these incidents.
On Friday, August 8, 2018 Apgar released a statement to the community to seemingly clarify student involvement in the hiring process for the Director of the Union.
Unfortunately—but not unexpectedly—this email omitted key facts and aspects of the situation to paint a misleading—and in many cases false—narrative of the hiring process as well as the roles students and student government played in the process.
According to Andrew Kiselik ’19, one of only six students who participated in the interview process, “The hiring process for Director of the Union differed from the process used to fill other administrative positions in the Rensselaer Union. The greatest difference is no candidates were presented to the Executive Board.”
While Apgar explains the lack of Executive Board involvement with the claim, “Directors of the Rensselaer Student Union have always been hired in accordance with the standard university processes and procedures,” this does not align with the fact that Human Resources regularly honors the promises outlined in the Rensselaer Union Constitution when hiring for Union positions. A Poly interview with Former Director of the Union Rick Hartt confirms this further, “The Executive Board would vote to either approve or disapprove the recommendation. Now, there would be a number of people from student government who would be involved in that process. A lot of Executive Board members would be involved in that process, and those individuals who were involved would make that presentation to the Executive Board.” In this case, however, the Executive Board was intentionally excluded.
Additionally, Apgar claims “Rensselaer Student Union leaders continue to run its activities, clubs, and programs, and fully administers its budget.” However, as of May 2018, the Vice President for Finance Virginia Gregg issued a memo which stated that the administration has removed the Executive Board’s ability to make decisions on reallocations and purchases above a threshold, which differs from over a century of precedent and directly conflicts with the Union Constitution, a legally-binding enactment of the Board of Trustees which the administration and Trustees regularly violate.
From the aforementioned interview, Hartt points out “I think when student decisions are overturned, or student decisions are negated in the running of the Union without significant discussion, that’s when the Union becomes something other than student run.” Unfortunately, it appears that the administration has decided to violate student rights by crossing this line.
Apgar proceeds to claim, “There was consistent student participation in the interviewing process for the new Director of the Rensselaer Union, including the Grand Marshal and President of the Union.” He fails to mention the GM was excluded from the invitations to interview, and the administration only added her to the May interviews after it was pointed out that she had been notably excluded. Additionally, of the nine additional students Justin had requested to be included, only two were invited, and both had been considered before the student recommendations were submitted.
Apgar’s most misleading claim may be regarding the clandestine meet and greet events hosted in June. We were informed of the June 13 event just several hours before the event occurred only after we confronted them on failing to notify us about the event. Given the administration’s failure to notify us and how late they waited to admit our exclusion from the event, it would have been physically impossible for us to commute to campus to attend.
Finally, this also only covers the major inaccuracies in Apgar’s statement. Some of the others included the incorrect listing of invitations and attendees for certain events, the last-minute changes and cancellations, and the failure to quantify “Did Not Attend” with pre-notified conflicts with final examinations, to name a few.
Student involvement is a right afforded to our student body, not a privilege, as the administration seems to believe, and quality of involvement is just as important as quantity. We will continue to advocate for improvements to both quality and quantity. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.