Dear RPI Alumni,
Renew Rensselaer hopes this message finds you and your families well during this difficult and challenging time. We continue to follow the events affecting all colleges and universities, especially RPI. In this latest update, you will find several troubling developments that have occurred at our alma mater over the past several months. Concerns about RPI and how it can regain its former standing as one of the best technological universities in the world are more relevant than ever and remain a focus. We will continue our mission to bring about the critical changes that are both urgent and essential within our alma mater.
Coronavirus – As you are likely aware, nearly every institution of higher education has been adversely impacted by the sudden shift to distance learning for the spring semester—and possibly beyond. Most face severe financial challenges in the coming months, chief among them being lost revenues, reduced endowments, and difficulty filling freshman classes for the fall semester. RPI is not immune to these effects. The Institute has already announced that the Arch semester will be “delivered remotely.” It is also furloughing nearly 300 employees, and has announced a 5% cut to the salaries of Dr. Jackson and her cabinet. While Renew Rensselaer regrets such measures are needed at all, this voluntary pay cut does not keep pace with the salary cuts at other major universities and is a missed opportunity to build staff loyalty, student appreciation, and alumni support.
Peace Officers – A member of Save the Union recently uncovered a New York State Senate Bill that “grants peace officer status to certain public safety officers employed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.” This has concerned innumerable students and alumni as campus police departments typically act as independent law-enforcement agencies without the same public-reporting requirements, and instead report to university presidents or high-ranking college officials. The proposed bill also expands RPI officers’ jurisdiction to include not only the campus, but surrounding properties as well. While the RPI administration alleges this will improve campus safety, serious concerns exist regarding the larger scope of authority Public Safety would have, especially given the department’s active participation in the administrations’ suppressing the free speech of students (see below). The Student Senate recently expressed many of these concerns in a unanimously approved motion calling for the Bill to be withdrawn.
Free Speech “Award” – The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently released its list of “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech: 2020.” While the FIRE did not include RPI in its top 10 list this year, as they had for the past two years, they did bestow a special distinction upon our alma mater: the Lifetime Censorship Award. This award is “reserved for a college or university that threatens the free speech rights of its students and faculty so often that it deserves individual infamy.”
Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings – The 2020 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings were released. This ranks more than 800 universities “on 15 individual performance indicators and responses from more than 170,000 current college students, collected through THE’s annual US Student Survey.” RPI plummeted to the 122nd place, ranking lower than many peer institutions like Worcester Polytechnic Institute (119), Union College (115), Penn State – main campus (105), Drexel University (96), and Lehigh University (55). The 2016 ranking had RPI at 77th place.
Legal Update – We continue to await the court’s ruling on pending litigation regarding the Rensselaer Alumni Association’s (RAA) governance practices. The most recent events on this front have been memorandums of law submitted to the court by our attorneys on February 7th, and a reply submitted to the court by the RAA’s counsel on February 27th. The matter is now in the court’s hands and, unfortunately, due to current events, we have no specific information regarding the potential time frame for a decision.
Pressing Ahead – The RPI administration continues to receive criticism from a variety of national and local news sources, as well as student leaders on campus. Perhaps most telling, the GM and Vice GM recently published a letter titled “Our Arch concerns have gone unheard,” in which they poignantly voiced their concerns over the administration’s disregard for any opinion about the Arch program that isn’t a positive one: “In our experience, RPI administrators are adamantly defending a full implementation of the Arch this summer regardless of the negative consequences it will have on the students who are forced to participate in it…The emphasis placed on the good experiences students have during Arch is disproportionate to the seemingly many more negative Arch experiences, which are often neglected. In order to improve the Arch program, every story needs to be heard, not just the ones that make the Arch look successful.” Although these student leaders wrote about a specific issue, their palpable frustration and the administration’s authoritative response is indicative of a systemic problem.
In accordance with Renew Rensselaer’s primary mission to improve the governance, leadership, and alumni support of the Institute, we have, again, reached out to the Chairman of RPI’s Board of Trustees to repeat our offer to rally alumni support as a positive response to the implementation of our Platform. Now, more than ever, we believe RPI needs solid leadership and alumni support; however, the significant changes needed to restore RPI’s standing as a leading technological institution must first be addressed, or RPI’s plea for alumni support will go unheeded.
Thank you for your continued support. We remain committed to representing the alumni voice and improving our alma mater for students now and in the future. Please share this update and the Renew Rensselaer Platform with fellow alumni and reach out with your thoughts and comments (firstname.lastname@example.org). As always, be sure to follow us on social media!