New Year, Old Challenges

Dear Concerned Alumni,

We are emailing you to provide an update regarding recent events concerning RPI, as much has transpired during the past few months.

Dr. Jackson’s Contract Extension – On December 20th, Chair of the Board of Trustees Arthur Golden announced that the Board of Trustees had asked Dr. Jackson to continue as president of RPI through June 30, 2022, which amounts to an additional two years. We are disappointed there was no acknowledgement of the need to improve RPI governance practices as part of the effort to reach and re-engage alumni to rebuild trust and financial support for the Institute which has been lost. Renew Rensselaer accepts the challenge to do just that.

RAA Annual Meeting and Trustee Election – The Rensselaer Alumni Association (RAA) held an Annual Meeting on December 1st, at the Heffner Alumni House. This meeting was called after Renew Rensselaer alerted the RAA Board that we had reviewed past RAA meeting minutes and noted the Association had not held Annual Meetings or elections in accordance with its Bylaws for many years.

The lead agenda item was the election of new RAA Board members and officers. You likely received an email from the RAA president in mid-December announcing the slate passed. We have obtained additional information which raises serious questions about both the voting procedure and vote tabulation:

  • The official vote tally was 28-27;
  • Voting was done by ballot; however, there was no prior vote taken by the membership to allow a vote by ballot, as is required by the Bylaws;
  • Absentee electronic voting was arranged in advance by the RAA president, but not promulgated to members. The RAA Bylaws require voting be done “in person”. The RAA president made the determination following a floor protest that members participating via a conference call were present at the meeting; however, Robert’s Rules of Order is clear in stating attendance at a meeting requires members be physically present in the room;
  • The electronic vote count announced at the meeting was 8-2. After members on the conference call determined more than two “no” votes had been cast online, a recount of the electronic votes was ordered, and;
  • It took eight days following the election for the RAA president to announce the results. Of the final vote tally of 28-27, the electronic vote count was 10-6, and the in-room vote count was 18-21. However, we have learned that the 18th “yes” vote was cast by the RAA president after the meeting had adjourned (the in-room count was announced several times at the meeting as 17-21). In addition, the RAA president has made reference to certain electronic votes having been disqualified.

RAA Board’s Consideration of RR’s Resolution from the Special Meeting – The agenda for the Annual Meeting also included a follow-up discussion about the resolution put forth by Renew Rensselaer and passed by the RAA membership at the RAA Special Meeting held in October. The resolution recommended that the RAA Board endorse the Renew Rensselaer Platform and urge the RPI Board of Trustees to adopt and implement it. Despite it having “carried overwhelmingly” at the Special Meeting, the RAA president announced that the RAA Board would not endorse it. It was then announced the RAA Board’s alternative course of action was to recommend the creation of an advisory council, to include members of the administration, to address the concerns raised by Renew Rensselaer at the Special Meeting. It remains unclear whether the RAA Board actually considered and voted on the Renew Rensselaer Resolution, since most of the RAA Executive Committee and several other Trustees had not yet been elected at the RAA Annual Meeting.

Reform and Compliance with RAA Bylaws Needed – The RAA’s noncompliance with its Bylaws for the past many years has called into question the legitimacy of not only the recent election, but of its current roster of Trustees and Officers. There is a clear need for comprehensive Bylaws compliance by the RAA, as well as reforms to make the combined nomination and election process transparent, democratic, and truly representative of its alumni members.

In the recent election, a vote was taken to accept or reject a slate of candidates (in its entirety) that were previously nominated and approved by the RAA itself (one candidate per open position). No nominations from the floor were permitted, nor were other candidates–who were qualified and nominated per the Bylaws. The only option that had been afforded to alumni was to recommend names of candidates to the RAA Nominating Committee earlier in the year. We do not believe the current Bylaws and associated processes provide any meaningful choice to alumni for electing RAA Trustees. In fact, we believe the processes presently used do not meet the requirement that successor trustees “be elected by the membership”, as prescribed in the RAA’s Charter.

The RAA Governance Committee is currently evaluating changes to its Bylaws for adoption at its January Board Meeting. Renew Rensselaer contends the RAA Charter requires an open, participative, and transparent process for RAA nominations and elections. Therefore, we have recommended several changes to the committee which we hope will be adopted in order to bring about competitive elections.

RPI’s 2018 Financial Review – RPI’s 2018 Annual Report and Consolidated Financial Statements were publicly posted in early November. We have completed our analysis of the results and updated our website, including the spreadsheets, statistics, and ratios within the Untold Story. While the operating results of RPI showed improvement in 2018 due to revenue growth from increased undergraduate enrollment, the problems of high debt, low endowment, and weak fundraising persist. Contrary to the Rensselaer Plan‘s target of stable undergraduate enrollment, RPI has increased it by over 1,200 students during the past five years. Despite this growth in undergraduate enrollment, RPI remains vulnerable to a sharp economic downturn or recession. A detailed summary of the 2018 financial statements is available here.

Greek Life Update – On December 21st, LeNorman Strong and John Kolb sent memorandums to the RPI Community regarding Greek Life and the activities of the Greek Life Task Force, respectively. You may read those memorandums here.

Networking Among Your Classmates and Friends – Please remember and speak about Renew Rensselaer’s efforts at every alumni meeting, via email to your classmates, and when speaking with anyone interested in the future success of RPI. Together we can make a difference in returning RPI to its rightful place as one of the top technological institutions in the US and the world. In the new year, we ask that each of you please make it a priority to seek out at least two of your classmates to support the Renew Rensselaer Platform before the end of January.

Sign the Renew Rensselaer Platform

We are developing our plans for 2019 and will update you further as they progress. In the meantime, we welcome your thoughts and feedback via email and on social media.

We wish you all a Happy New Year, and thank you for your continued support!

Renew Rensselaer