Administration should follow through on promises, release draft report
Administrative actions indicate disregard for student involvement
Dear members of the Rensselaer community,
As presidents of our respective Greek organizations, we sent the below letter on Thursday, December 20th to Vice President for Information Services and Technology and Chief Information Officer John Kolb ’79 and Interim Vice President for Student Life LeNorman Strong—the administrators tasked with coordinating the Greek Life Task Force—with the intention of making the letter public shortly thereafter. On the following day, the Rensselaer community received emails in rapid succession from Kolb and Strong detailing updates from the Task Force. Their announcements came after a month of silence and nearly three weeks since the Greek Life Task Force’s official disbandment. Regardless of whether or not these emails would have been sent at all without our recognition of the alarming issues at play, the situation should not have deteriorated to this point.
These updates—and their coincidental release shortly after our letter—exemplify the issues of accountability, transparency, and communication with the Task Force since its creation in June. Given that, for over a month, the administration provided no communication on the given extension, deadlines missed without notice or reason, and no other public update, we believe our Greek organizations are intentionally left unprepared to enact the positive changes preached as needed in the Greek community at RPI.
We have pondered the motives of the administration when it chooses to delay information until the most stressful and absent times of year—finals week and Winter Break. This indicates to us the administration’s apparent desire to disregard student involvement, and to just enact what it sees fit. The Task Force formed in the middle of summer vacation when fewer students could meet with administrators and voice their opinions. Minimal work has been done by the Task Force during the semester as far as actually making changes and recommendations to the Greek community. Then, the update about the Task Force report and the policies in place for next semester came when all students were either off campus for break or were about to leave for break. Making these decisions when students are not on campus is completely against the Task Force’s goal of working hand-in-hand with the Greek community.
As representatives of the principal parties affected by the actions of the Task Force, we find the extensive lack of information and lack of updates both negligent and alarming, especially given the promise made by Kolb on November 14 that a draft copy of the report would be provided to the presidents prior to the close of the Fall 2018 semester. With the above in mind, we request that the administration follow through on its promises and provide us with the draft report in its current state.
The Presidents of Greek Organizations at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Ian Holland – Psi Upsilon
Chris Gasparis – Pi Lambda Phi
Luis Garcia – Phi Iota Alpha
Anthony Buschiazzo – Alpha Epsilon Pi
Nicholas Kesler – Lambda Chi Alpha
Christer Herrmans – Phi Sigma Kappa
Andrew Dumont – Sigma Alpha Epsilon
Tiburon Benavides – Sigma Phi Epsilon
Ryan Kirk – Pi Kappa Alpha
Nicholas Campbell- Alpha Chi Rho
Daniel Celic – Chi Phi
Vijay Yedidi – Delta Kappa Epsilon
Cameron Dieselman – Theta Xi
Brandon Herrada – Pi Kappa Phi
Spencer Holt – Sigma Chi
Neil Patel – Phi Kappa Theta
Jared Abrams – Acacia
Andrew Hebel – Phi Mu Delta
Samuel Lednyak – Theta Chi
Maxwell Bellomy – Zeta Psi
Dear members of the Rensselaer administration and members of the Rensselaer Board of Trustees:
As the Fall 2018 semester concludes, we must express our utter disappointment that the Greek Life Task Force has seemingly failed to accomplish its mission of developing a concise recommendation to improve Greek Life at Rensselaer. When first notified of the creation of the Task Force on June 8th of this year, the Rensselaer community was promised a committee that would “work with the community to identify what is necessary to enact a long-term, sustainable, and comprehensive culture change to preserve the positive aspects of the Greek system.” Furthermore, on August 17, Dr. Jackson stated that “the Task Force will provide a final report and recommendations to me by November 15, 2018.” On December 12th, the fraternity presidents became aware of the Task Force’s disbandment over two weeks prior without any statement or publication of a draft report to be sent to the public. This, in every sense of the situation at hand, demonstrates a catastrophic failure on the part of the Task Force and its administrative leadership to accomplish the intended goals of the committee.
As a collective body in representation of our respective houses, the presidents have not ignored this call for preventative change. In late August, representatives from each Greek organization at Rensselaer participated in the Greek Life Forum to discuss areas for improvement. No community is perfect, and we recognize the shortcomings of our Greek Community alongside the legitimate concerns of recent happenings involving Greek Life across the nation. From the start, the Interfraternity Council continuously expressed support for the Task Force’s stated intent of improving Greek Life at Rensselaer. In addition to involvement in the Institute’s review process, adapting to major changes to Fall 2018 Rush, and providing support wherever possible, the Interfraternity Council and the many houses began internal reviews of operation and procedure, training and support, and overall-self improvement. These efforts to improve continue today. Currently, we are working to develop a new leadership role in the Interfraternity Council dedicated to promoting the academic success of our members, and we are developing possible ideas for a self-imposed monitoring system for all social events.
By collaborating with the Task Force, as with any professional relationship, we expected transparency, communication, and accountability with respect to deadlines and developments of this committee. Disappointingly, we have been presented with obscure (and seemingly misleading) announcements and consistently missed deadlines. As a result, we have felt left in the dark about the committee’s progress and efforts throughout the entirety of this semester. The only public updates about progress appeared to be through presentations to the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council, and the Student Senate. However, these two presentations did not seem to provide meaningful updates about the process; rather, they felt to be merely pro forma efforts to be able to state that the presentations had occurred.
The abrupt adjournment of the Task Force without the publication of any draft proposal, more than four weeks past a deadline imposed by the President, is unprofessional and unacceptable. Without timely recommendations for improvement, Greek organizations have felt that this semester has been a futile struggle to adapt to changing timelines for recruitment and arduous sanctions that have provided the Greek community with no improvement. This open letter is written in an effort to expose the inappropriate manner in which the Task Force has communicated and operated, geared towards relationship building, unaddressed topics with community about The Arch, and a lack of transparency and accountability.
On establishing strong relationships between the Greek Student Body and RPI Administration,
On November 6, 2018, the Greek Life Task Force published an update defining their focus areas moving forward in their review of RPI’s Greek community. The first of these focus areas expressed the Task Force’s need for “establishing strong relationships” between the administration and the Greek community. However, since this update, the Task Force has provided little evidence that the administration would like to create and support such relationships. The Task Force’s inability to meet their own deadlines for updates and general communication has resulted in the Greek community’s trust in the Task Force repeatedly breaking. While most Greek leaders have been more than willing to cooperate with the Task Force and acknowledge their suggestions for improvement, a strong relationship has not been able to form due to a severe lack of communication and transparency on the Task Force’s end.
Chronologically, the first major actions of the administration were pausing all social events, halting recruitment, and banning alcohol in fraternity houses. The administration also announced that it would be selecting members from the Greek community to be part of the Task Force. To aid in this process, the Interfraternity Council interviewed students from the Greek community to recommend potential candidates. These recommendations were completely ignored by the administration. Instead, members from the community were selected who did not even apply through IFC or by any public means, and the administration offered no explanation as to their reasons for choosing these candidates.
Since the creation of the Task Force, there have been four discussions between the Task Force and the presidents of the fraternities. On August 27th and August 28th, discussion panels were held, and IFC and Panhel attendance was strong. Through these discussions, a document of recommendations from the presidents was sent to be reviewed by the Task Force’s discussion panel. However, as with before, these recommendations were completely ignored, and never even brought into the conversation on the panels.
On November 14th, VP Kolb and VP Strong presented an update from the Task Force at an IFC meeting. The main topics summarized information from two productive panels involving Greek leaders from across the nation that the Task Force hosted on November 10th and November 11th. There, VP Kolb stated that the Task Force Report was near completion, and that a rough draft would be presented to both the presidents and Dr. Jackson for feedback from the two group’s perspectives before a final draft was drawn up. The presidents and Dr. Jackson were to receive the final draft at the same time, as with the rough draft. Since then, there has not been communication or updates regarding these drafts and the Task Force has disbanded. Emails sent to Kolb to request more information have been ignored, and the entire Greek community has been in the dark. Any information received comes in the form of rumors, none of which are based in fact. The Office of Greek Life Commons, presidents, Interfraternity council, and the Greek student body as a whole have been consistently left out of the most important and relevant discussion they can have this semester. With over a month passing since the last communication from the Task Force, we as a collective cannot trust that well-rounded perspectives, ideas, and input from the community have been acknowledged. It is evident that trust and accountability have been incredibly strained.
On the Incorporation of the Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students Model,
CLASS (Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students) at Rensselaer is based on creating a network of students, faculty, and staff that challenge one another to cultivate the strongest learning environment possible for students. Throughout the work of the Greek Life Task Force, CLASS and its relationship to Greek chapters has been a major topic discussion. With the implementation of CLASS, the goal is that students will strive to be leaders beyond an academic setting. Intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and global awareness are the main points that allow Rensselaer students to become great leaders. With these aspects of CLASS taken into account, there is a great deal of overlap between CLASS and the Greek community.
The Greek community represents a collection of students who hold themselves to a higher standard because of the ideals on which their houses are founded. As such, members of the Greek community are constantly challenged to solve complex problems that allow them to become great leaders. The Greek community encourages intellectual agility as students pursue terms as officers and chairmen within their chapters. Though not having statistics specific to RPI, the NIC found that 85% of leaders across 730 college campuses are involved in the Greek community.
Rensselaer’s Greek community also places emphasis on global awareness. The Greek community has remained committed to its philanthropy and service goals, which aim to aid both local and international communities. In regard to these issues brought up by the Task Force, we encourage the collection of service and philanthropy data from each Greek organization. We anticipate that what most will find is that the local community and many international service and philanthropy organizations have been positively affected by the presence of the Rensselaer Greek community.
Overall, we feel CLASS has been an issue forced upon the Greek community without much foresight. While we push to improve our community and become one of the models for other communities, we would like to hear specific facts and statistics for areas of improvement. Rather than saying that we need to improve our diversity, we would much rather have conversations about how recruitment events can be intentionally planned to be more inclusive or how to decrease the stratification of Greek organizations. The CLASS approach is a way for students to be a part of a support network that allows them to be the best students they can possibly be. The Greek community inherently advocates students learning in clusters (each individual Greek organization) and supports students in their endeavors through college and beyond (through brotherhood/sisterhood and extensive alumni networks).
On the Interaction Between Greek Life and The Arch,
As the full implementation of the The Arch becomes a more pressing issue for the sustainability of the Greek community, assistance and information are needed. Concerning the design and implementation of new housing and financial plans for the Arch, there is sparse communication from the Task Force about future plans for blending Greek housing with the Arch. One step to help the struggling chapters is to not only meet and discuss with them, but also to outline the atmosphere of the changing college experience so that there is time to discuss changes to financial plans and meet with Greek advisors. This lack of transparency makes financial planning and overall success much more difficult for every chapter.
Other than creating a plan for the integration of these two programs, the Greek Life Task Force has stressed the point of their findings to be a “conflict of the Arch with Greek Life.” Any emerging program as extensive as the Arch will face interference and the goal of the Institute is to incorporate this program as smoothly as possible into our college experience. If we cannot successfully plan for as large of an undertaking as when is necessary, the Greek community will be at a huge loss due to poor communication.
On Moving Forward into Next Semester,
As a collective, we believe this letter has illuminated our concerns and frustrations regarding the handling of communication between the Task Force and the public throughout this semester. Hopefully the Greek organizations currently on the Interfraternity Council are demonstrating their willingness to collaborate and improve our community through their performance and behavior this semester. Had the Task Force remained responsive, active, and accountable to itself and its mission throughout the semester, this letter may have been a message of thanks for support and relationship building. Unfortunately, with no public report in over a month, we must assume that we are again being shunted to the side. Because of our inability to communicate directly with members of the now disbanded Task Force, this public letter will hopefully promote the accountability of improving Greek life and allow for more reciprocity in the relationships between the Task Force and the Interfraternity Council and Greek organizations.