Renew Rensselaer Status Update

Dear Alumni and Supporters,

Since our last update, much has transpired. Unfortunately, almost none of it is good news.

First, the “not-bad” news:

  • With your help, we successfully amassed well over the 100 required signatures to call a Special Meeting of the Rensselaer Alumni Association (RAA). Thanks to all who signed! The petition was sent via e-mail to the President of the RAA, Kareem Muhammad ’01, on May 26th.
    • The RAA has failed to schedule the meeting for over a month now, so we sent a letter to the RAA President on July 1st advising that NY state law requires prompt scheduling (usually within five business days). A minimum of 30 days’ notice before the meeting must be given to all alumni. We’ll let you know when this meeting is scheduled and hope many of you will be able to attend.
  • Moody’s credit rating for RPI has not slipped any further. The RPI administration touted this as an achievement by releasing a somewhat exaggerated statement titled, “Moody’s Investors Service Affirms Positive Credit Rating.” However, RPI’s reaffirmed rating of A3 is still inferior to all its peer institutions. Moody’s logic for affirming RPI’s rating rests in large part on the anticipated increase in tuition income due to the trend of ever-larger freshman class sizes. This year is no exception with a record-breaking freshmen class of approximately 1,800 students expected to arrive on campus in August. Moody’s balanced its analysis with expressions of concern about a “high debt burden,” an “increasing tuition discount rate,” and “thin liquidity.”

Now, for the rest of the story:

  • In conveniently timed summer emails, Dr. Jackson and Interim Vice President for Student Life LeNorman Strong announced an upcoming overhaul of RPI’s Greek Life system. All rush activities were suspended for the upcoming semester and major new restrictions were placed on social activities. But, following ardent opposition from students and alumni, the administration replaced its suspension of recruitment activities with strict constraints and a delayed rush. These revised policies are still being opposed by many.
    • While Renew Rensselaer supports fixing any significant issues in order to ensure student safety and well-being, the emails sent by Jackson and Strong imply RPI Greeks, as a group, have been exhibiting growing problems–an assertion that has yet to be substantiated with facts and data. In addition, we have learned that the cited issues have occurred in only a few houses, yet all are being painted with the same broad brush.
    • These policies will put an undue financial burden on all Greek houses by, first and foremost, affecting their ability to recruit new members.
    • In the autocratic style typical of the current Institute leadership, no input was solicited from any of the affected RPI stakeholders before these decisions were made and announced. This is yet another example of the poor governance that exists at the Institute.
    • The Grand Marshal and President of the Union have penned an excellent, critical response to these actions.
    • Renew Rensselaer believes Greek Life is an important component of the social fabric of the Institute. We support the AIGC as the proper venue for addressing these issues and for furthering RPI’s student life values within the Greek system. However, poor governance is an issue that is concerning to all alumni.
  • The takeover of the formerly student-run Rensselaer Union continues. On May 7th, CFO Virginia Gregg sent a memo to PU Justin Etzine announcing new authorization and spending rules for the Rensselaer Union, removing further budgeting authority from the Rensselaer Union Executive Board. If it wasn’t clear before that the Union is no longer student-run, this memo sure removed any trace of doubt.
  • The increase in student body is already putting additional strain on stressed facilities and staff. As of several weeks ago, emails were being sent to sophomores (who are required to live on campus) informing them that their existing on-campus housing arrangements would no longer be honored and the administration would be revising their accommodations “due to the significant increase in class size.”
  • Financial support for the much-heralded $1 billion capital campaign remains uncertain. Reports not released openly to alumni indicate the administration is counting any and all support received–including donations earmarked to clubs and athletic teams–toward the campaign total. What is certain is that the $400 million claimed to have been raised is merely the cumulative total of all gifts and bequests made since the last campaign concluded in 2009. The amount raised during the most recent fiscal year won’t be available until early November.
  • A June 13th public meeting hosted in Troy by the New York Civil Liberties Union discussed the lack of free speech at RPI.LeNorman Strong and General Counsel Craig Cook attended the event and were unable to defend the ongoing suppression of student rights on campus, according to a UAlbany law professor and student and alumni attendees. They did, however, acknowledge critical posters adhering to the rules should not have been removed by the administration and affirm this practice would not continue.
  • The current state of affairs at RPI has resulted in the formation of several more focused groups of concerned alumni and students. We have been in touch with representatives from several of these groups and support their efforts in working toward a better RPI.

Renew Rensselaer believes we must convince the Trustees that the weakening financial condition, academic standing, and quality of the campus environment, if not reversed, will make RPI uncompetitive over the long-term. Additionally, the poor management and lack of sound governance at the Institute must be reversed.

Please share the Renew Rensselaer website and information with fellow alumni and ask that they sign our Platform. With your support, together we can fight for RPI’s future!

Renew Rensselaer