Staff Editorial

Senate should fight to make our Union student run again

By The Polytechnic Editorial Board October 9, 2019

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed the exact Union Annual Report that it refused to consider six months ago, without making any of the changes it deemed necessary at the time. As a result, The Polytechnic is concerned that the Senate is failing to do what’s best for the Rensselaer community: reclaim the student-run nature of our Union.

In April, the Institute rejected and requested changes to the Union budget for the first time in at least 49 years. The Executive Board had decided to phase out around $57,000 in funding for staffing in the East Campus Athletic Village because it felt it was supporting Intercollegiate Athletics, which was removed from the Union budget in 2016. Rather than discussing this with the students on the Board and making the case for why the money should be put back in the budget, administrators, either in the Division of Finance or Division of Student Life, instructed the Board to make the changes.

While we believe the Union has not been student run for quite some time, these actions further cemented that. In April, the Senate and other members of Student Government acknowledged this. It isn’t under the Senate’s jurisdiction to change the budget, but they at least decided not to approve the Union Annual Report until it contained an explanation of what had happened. Grand Marshal Meagan Lettko ’20 and President of the Union Caitlin Kennedy ’20 separately reiterated this need for an explanation to The Polytechnic in April.

Since then, what has changed? Lettko said that writing this explanation wasn’t pursued by this Senate or Executive Board because it was “harder to try to work backwards,” and that they “didn’t think it was really worth our time to focus on that.” However, they had six months—including one summer—and at least 11 current senators who had first-hand knowledge of this event at their disposal.

Now the approved UAR contains no trace of what happened; someone could pore over every piece of Student Government’s public record and have no idea that there was a historic disregard for student authority in the Union and its budgeting process.

When the UAR was brought before the Senate again last week, UAR Committee Chairperson Nate Sullivan ’22 gave only a brief presentation and failed to explain the circumstances surrounding the changes to the budget. Senators unanimously passed a motion to approve the UAR without any questions or discussion. This happened despite the previous Senate’s refusal to even consider the same motion, since members had believed the E-Board was “strong-armed” into making the changes and that student decisions were overturned in the process. We’re inclined to believe that this backtracking is a result of laziness, apathy, and/or ignorance—and none of these are acceptable.

Our Union was special because it was student run. People invested their time into Student Government because they actually had the capacity to make changes to better the lives of students.

When we interviewed Lettko during her campaign for grand marshal in March, she said the following: “I definitely want to make sure that through my term, if elected, I would be proactively working on getting the student Union back to a place where one day it can be student run.” She and the 50th Student Senate are halfway through their terms, and we’re unaware of any progress made toward a student-run Union. Progress could take the form of an ad-hoc committee dedicated to the cause and a resolution outlining the steps the committee intends to take.

If anything, this meeting showed that the Senate has lost interest in fighting for what used to give students a sense of pride through their ability to change and improve Rensselaer.