Behind the scenes of Fall Union operations

By Yaseen Mahmoud September 15, 2021

Many of you have probably seen the email I sent out regarding the Union’s operating guidelines for this semester. Although I wanted to get these to you as quickly as possible, not all of the procedures had been finalized and it may have been more vague than expected. To address the questions and concerns I’ve received, I’d like to explain some of the reasoning for these decisions and update you on our progress.

Club Activities

Club room reservations have been the greatest source of student questions—for good reason. Clubs rely on room reservations to hold general body meetings, activities, and events. Many club officers have emailed me after they noticed that EMS, Rensselaer's room reservation system, is currently not accepting reservations. I am working diligently with campus administrators and Union administrative staff to get EMS back online as soon as possible. In the meantime, clubs can request room reservations by emailing and copying their SARP.

I have also received many emails requesting more information regarding club travel, which is allowed upon Institute approval and with restrictions this semester. The Executive Board and Union administrative staff are still working to define what constitutes “club travel,” the limits of “local” travel, and how to allow clubs as much freedom as possible while staying within RPI’s Health and Safety policies. We are still determining the approval process for clubs that wish to travel as more sign-offs are needed from campus administrators now than in a normal year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, RPI released a policy restricting non-essential spending. With this policy in place, spending is still limited. Clubs can only spend money on expenses from their budget considered essential to club operation. To adhere to this restriction, all spending needs to be approved by director of the Union Charlie Potts; normally, these purchases only had to be approved by the E-Board. In addition, any spending above $5,000 must receive approval from Dean of Students Travis Apgar and Vice President of Student Life Peter Konwerski before it can be signed off by President Shirley Ann Jackson. While these additional approvals increase the time it takes for clubs to spend their budgets, they ensure that all spending is being properly vetted.

Union Operations

While not as glamorous as club activities, many of you asked about Union hours of operation. We had originally hoped to return to all-day operation, but chose a midnight closing time for three reasons: student usage patterns, safety measures, and decontamination procedures.

Given these restrictions, we reviewed building occupancy rates and found that the hours between midnight and 8 am are historically off-peak hours (i.e., very few students continue to study or congregate in the Union after this time). With this in mind, we determined that a midnight closing time would allow for the greatest amount of student usage while preventing Union staff burnout and permitting enough time for cleaning.

We are working to lessen the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases by having Union staff members in the building at all times to ensure that all occupants are following RPI’s Health and Safety guidelines. Since the Union is staffed entirely by students in the evenings, it is not feasible to keep the Union open for the entirety of the night. Additionally, this allows the Union to be thoroughly cleaned every night to mitigate the potential spread of infectious diseases.

We want to continue to expand these hours as much as possible. As a result of this, the Executive Board moved to empower the Business Operations Committee—the Executive Board committee that oversees all operational plans for Union facilities—to adjust building hours as necessary throughout the semester. This allows Biz Ops to change operating hours in response to any changes in RPI’s Health and Safety guidelines. Biz Ops will continue to assess building usage as the semester progresses and investigate expanding these hours during busy times such as midterms and finals week.

While we are all eager to return to normal, I appreciate the continued support and patience I have seen as we have worked to finalize these guidelines. I understand your frustrations fully, and I promise to do everything in my power to ensure that the Union’s policies are updated promptly as RPI changes its COVID restrictions. In the meantime, please feel free to send me an email at if you have any questions regarding club operations, Union guidelines, or our progress on finalizing these policies.

Thank you, and as always, stay safe.