Save the Union

Some Falsehoods You'll Be Told About the Union


Motivated by the Student Life Restructuring Information document from PU Nick Dvorak (, here are a few underlying falsehoods that those involved in the discussion have had difficulty discrediting. Most of them reflect a mischaracterization of the Union's nature and its leadership's role in governance by RPI staffers.

Falsehood 1: The Union Director is in charge of the Union

The Director of the Union (and the other Union staff) are hired by the students in charge of the Union as stewards. Their jobs consist of the daily tasks involved in operating a Union that students don't wish to take on. But their mandate is strictly bounded on either side by the powers of the Senate and Executive Board. On the big-picture side, they may not make overall policy for the building or make any substantial change without the Senate. On the fiscal/operational side, they may not appropriate money, execute contracts, or manage club activities without explicit Executive Board authority.

Falsehood 2: The Student Life VP or his HR counterpart can terminate the Director of the Union

Article V of the Union Constitution speaks clearly. The Executive Board hires the director, and the only way to remove him is through charges brought by the Executive Board through its counterpart, the Judicial Board. The SL VP is basically his lawyer, not his boss in this situation. In taking this action, Dr. Ross blatantly violated a ratified enactment of the Student Union and the Board of Trustees to whom he is responsible.

Falsehood 3: The Institute or its officers can conceal the reasons for the Director's termination from the entities charged with his employment.

In the past, the GM and PU have always been accorded a sort of special trust within the Institute to deal with this kind of personal information judiciously and honorably. While no one will say the Institute is obligated to do this, they weren't permitted to take the action in the first place, making the point moot. The power to act secretly is the power to act unaccountably.

Falsehood 4: The Student Life VP can direct staff members of the Union and effectively reallocate to them the Director's duties.

He cannot. The authority to direct the staff as to policy or practice lies in the Senate and E-Board, respectively. In the same vein, no AVP for Student Life can exceed the authority the Director him/herself would have had to begin with.

Falsehood 5: The rules of the NCAA or the vague guidelines of the Middle States process can make Union policy or fundamentally alter the students' self-taxation and funding arrangement.

Without getting into a debate about the merits of the organizations (the NCAA is, in the analysis of many, an unethical organization that exploits students for its own goals), only the Union's elected officials can make alterations in policy of this nature in keeping the the processes laid out in the Constitution. Whether complying with these organizations is a good or bad idea, the decision can only be made by students acting in concert with their Institute counterparts.

Falsehood 6: The Rensselaer Plan binds the Union

Whether or not one believes that the Plan can or should bind the self-governing Union, the Union has never been mentioned directly in this or any other Plan. The edicts coming down purportedly based on it have no basis in anything more than the Plan's general intent, which could be read to justify nearly anything.

Falsehood 7: The Student Life VP can adjust the responsibilities of the Director of the Union.

The Union Constitution makes it clear that this can only happen through the amendment process. At this point, the sheer arrogance is what catches me. Dr. Ross' attitude of “the Union bends to suit the needs of my policy preferences” is as inaccurate as it is faithless to his obligations as an officer of the Institute.

Falsehood 8: The Student Life VP can act based on what he believes is best for students.

This is listed only facetiously. If Dr. Ross' alleged statement that he knows what's best for students, even if they do not, and can act accordingly, flouts any pretense at acting within a sort of rules-based framework. If he substitutes his heartfelt convictions for procedures, rules, law, and ethics, it is impossible to reason with a zealot.

Falsehood 9: The Director's position is too large an undertaking for one person.

Up until a few years ago, Directors of the Union proved more than equal to their positions and even found plenty of time to advocate for students far in excess of their official job requirements. Only because the last Director's patrons felt he had to act unilaterally has this become an issue. Of course one man can't run the Union.

That's why there are student government bodies, with committees and other instrumentalities. The Union was deliberately under-staffed so as to allow students to contribute substantially to its running, apart from merely making policy. It would take 20 RPI finance folks to do what Martha and the E-Board do. Shared governance isn't just a gift to students, it's a call to duty as well.

Falsehood 10: An Executive Union Director can have broad oversight over co-curricular activities.

Only the Union, and really only the Executive Board and staff acting at its direction, can engage in this sort of oversight. This oversight arises from the fact that the Board provides the funding and approves the bylaws/charters of these organizations. To say that the E-Board approves the rules and funding for an organization, but an appointee unrelated to the Union exercises the authority implicit in those actions is meaningless.