Letter To The Editor

A student-run Union is in our past

By David Raab '19 April 10, 2019

At the beginning of March, representatives from the Division of Student Life told the director of the Union and the Union business administrator that in order for the Union budget to be considered by the Board of Trustees, changes were required. What’s most concerning is the fact that this information was only told to Union staff when they asked about whether the Union budget was approved with other budgets during the March Board of Trustees meeting. The president of the Union or any other student Executive Board members were never directly told that changes had to be made.

(Editor’s note: “Administrators reject, request changes to Union budget” is a news article about this topic that was published on April 5, 2019. It is available to read online.)

The idea of a student-run Union is diametrically opposed to the reality that the Division of Student Life imposed a diktat on the Union to change its budget over a month after it was approved by both the Executive Board and the Student Senate. It is now, if it wasn’t back during the farcical director of the Union hiring process, clear that a student-run Union is a artifact of the past. The ability of the Executive Board to make budgeting decisions has been trampled by a Division of Student Life that didn’t even have the decency to directly inform the student leadership of the Union of their declination to review the Union budget until after these budgetary changes were made.

The fully approved Union budget was submitted to the business manager of Student Life when the Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2020 Union Annual Report at the end of January. Objections were not raised until the middle of March. You should really pause now and think that the Union’s budget, and by extension the student activity fee, are such a low priority to the Division of Student Life that the UAR wasn’t seriously reviewed for over a month! I would be inclined to view the Division of Student Life’s objections more charitably if they had read the Union’s budget and told student leaders about changes a week or two after the Union submitted it, and not more than a month later—presumably because Union staff followed-up on why the budget wasn’t approved.

The “objections” raised by the Division of Student Life were as follows. First, the total number of undergraduate students projected to attend Rensselaer needed to be increased from 6,500 to 6,700 in the UAR to be consistent with the official public messaging of the Institute. This is problematic as there is no guarantee that those additional 200 students will attend Rensselaer. If the actual number of students for any reason comes up short, and there is not enough activity fee income to offset expenditures, the Union is required to make up the difference by mid-year cuts to club budgets or other drastic fiscal measures that will negatively impact students, and not the paper pushers who told the Union to make the change. Furthermore, the Division of Student Life made no effort to tell the Union of any required student enrollment projection before or during the budgeting process which took place last December. Instead, the Executive Board came up with a conservative figure based on prior year’s actual enrollments.

Second, the Union was told it is required to fund student building supervisor hours in athletics facilities including East Campus Athletic Village and the Armory, despite the Executive Board electing to remove that funding during budgeting. Athletics has justified this request by claiming that the student employees will be working to keep facilities open while club sports are using them—which is something that makes sense for the Union to do—but they never told the Union that was how they plan to use the money until after the budgeting process was complete.

David Raab ’19

Union Executive Board Policies Committee Chairperson