The Alumni Have Spoken
Dear RPI Alumni,
On September 28th, 2019, nearly 400 members of the Rensselaer Alumni Association (RAA) attended the Annual Meeting of Members, both virtually and in person. This marks only the second such meeting to be held in recent years.
The meeting was limited to one hour and, in spite of several procedural challenges, only two issues were put to a vote: an “election” to approve the proposed slate of RAA Board positions—the candidates who had been selected by the incumbent RAA Board—and a “nonbinding” vote to endorse the resolutions of the RAA Board since the last Annual Meeting. Notably, then-RAA President Kareem Muhammad (whose term concluded that day) stated that if the members failed to endorse the Board’s actions, this censure would have no effect, as the vote was merely symbolic. Among the RAA Board’s resolutions were fiercely criticized changes to the Bylaws that resulted in further diminishment of members’ rights, and the reduction of democracy within the RAA.
Renew Rensselaer recommended voting no on the slate for a litany of reasons. The overwhelming majority—more than 77%—of the nearly 400 voters agreed and rejected the RAA Board’s handpicked slate of candidates. Nearly the same number voted against the Board’s resolutions. This clear and powerful message from RPI alumni prompted an email response from the newly seated RAA President, Matt Siegel.
Siegel’s October 2nd email, as well as in an earlier email to alumni on September 25th, authored alongside Muhammad, implied that Renew Rensselaer’s complaint had been adjudicated and the court ruled “the RAA election process is consistent and in line with our Charter, our Bylaws and applicable New York law;” these claims are incorrect and misleading. Renew Rensselaer’s complaint dealing with the RAA’s failure to adhere to its Charter, Bylaws, and NY State Not-for-Profit Corporation Law (NPCL) remains within the court system, and the RAA’s cross motion to dismiss our complaint has yet to be ruled on.
Furthermore, Siegel and Muhammad have routinely justified the RAA Board’s unilateral decision to increase the number of alumni required to call a Special Meeting from 100 to more than 10,000 by incorrectly claiming the change was necessary to make the Bylaws conform with NPCL. This is misleading and disingenuous. The law in question states: “Special meetings of the members may be called by the board and by such person or persons as may be authorized by the certificate of incorporation or the by-laws.” This means the RAA Bylaws may authorize any number of members to call Special Meetings. As the RAA operated for decades with the completely legal, less stringent requirement of 100 members, we believe the sole reason for the change was to prevent members from ever calling another Special Meeting. This is unacceptable and a gross violation of member rights.
Renew Rensselaer’s leadership remains open to constructive dialogue with the RAA Board in an effort to resolve member concerns about free and fair elections, changes to the RAA Bylaws that facilitate the rights of members, and other matters of interest. We have reached out to the Board on numerous occasions, but have always been rebuffed. In years long past, our alumni association was more democratic and welcoming, even hosting competitive elections and allowing members to vote on alumni trustees. Hard to believe as it may be, our RAA used to recognize that its power was derived from the membership: alumni like you.
As always, we sincerely thank our supporters, especially those who have contributed to the Renew Rensselaer Legal Fund. We continue to seek donations, as we still have much to accomplish and are energized by the results of this meeting. Our work to represent all alumni voices and restore the governance rights of RPI alumni relies heavily on the generosity of alumni like you. We remain as resolved as ever to effect positive change at our alma mater, one step at a time, and help strengthen RPI and its reputation for its students of today—and tomorrow.
Please urge your fellow alumni to visit our website, sign our Platform, follow us on social media, and contribute to the legal fund so Renew Rensselaer may continue the fight to reclaim the rights of all RPI alumni. And a special thank you to those attended and voted in the Annual Meeting—we were thrilled to see such great alumni participation. Stay tuned for additional updates!