Save the Union

Letter to RPI Alumni

by Save the Union

Dear RPI alumni,

Although our audience tends to be students, we wanted to bring our important message to those who truly made the Rensselaer Union what it is today: the alumni. This upcoming weekend will be the first Reunion & Homecoming in the 127-year history of the Rensselaer Union where it is no longer student-run.

In 2006, the Middle States Accreditation Committee stated in its report, “The Rensselaer Union is an unusual, if not unique, student organization. Run entirely by students, the Union is a justifiable source of pride for the Institute.” Despite the Rensselaer Union being frequently lauded as one of the last remaining student-run unions in the country, the RPI administration announced last year that they were creating a new position, the “Executive Director of Student Activities,” and were met with outrage from the student body, faculty, and alumni alike. The responsibilities for this position included the “direction”—rather than “advisement,” as has been the case in the past—of the Rensselaer Union, student government, Greek Life, and campus recreation.

After a successful protest at RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson’s Spring Town Meeting in April 2016 that drew over one-thousand people, the administration announced they would abandon their plans to create the position. Dr. Jackson openly pledged that both she and the Board of Trustees “want to hear from all the members of our community to ensure that any decisions we make reflect their interests,” which amounted to nothing but an empty promise rife with bureaucratic deceit as they quietly shifted the responsibilities of the defunct position to another title—the existing Dean of Students role, which was then modified to include the role “Assistant Vice President for Student Life,” as well—in a classic bait-and-switch. This decision changed the reporting structure of the Director of the Union from reporting to the Rensselaer Union Executive Board (EBoard), a body of student representatives, to reporting directly to the administration.

Recently, the administration sought to fill the Director of the Union position, failing to involve students until the final steps of the process and continuing to ignore their feedback regarding the job description; specifically, that any candidate for director be approved by a vote of the EBoard in accordance with the Rensselaer Union Constitution before they could be hired, as has been the way it was done for 127 years. The controversy resulted in the Board of Trustees swiftly intervening. Chair Arthur Golden ’66 released a message whereby he repeatedly referred to the Union as a mere “lab course”; accompanying his message was a resolution passed by the Board of Trustees Executive Committee that shunned over a century of shared governance at RPI by not only leaving students out of the decision-making process, but also affirming the Executive Committee’s blind support of the president by declaring her sole authority over the employment of the director and reporting structure, and invalidating sections of the Union Constitution, which in its current form was approved by greater than 80% of the student population despite no conflict existing with the Bylaws of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The Trustees’ unilaterally-enacted resolution was met with a combination of great opposition and fierce criticism from the RPI community, and the release of a leaked memo from the student committee that participated in the recent interviews to fill the vacant Director of the Union position only confirmed our worst fears. Students on that committee detailed in the report how their entire interview experience was controlled by RPI’s Division of Human Resources (HR), including what questions they were allowed to ask and the topics of conversation discussed in the actual interviews. This had not been the case in the past, as students involved in previous searches have stated that HR left them in the room alone to conduct the interview. Most alarming is the fact that the job description and responsibilities for the Director of the Union position hadn’t changed since the April 2016 protest, despite the administration pledging to listen to the RPI community and soliciting student input on the Director of the Union role. Instead, the administration simply continued with their agenda, failing to involve students in any steps of the process despite until these final interviews, and making it very clear they intended the Rensselaer Union to be student-run in name only.

Wanting our voices to be heard on all of these issues and realizing a peaceful demonstration may be a necessary last resort in order to do so, we submitted an application to peacefully demonstrate during Reunion & Homecoming as it is the only time that would guarantee we’d reach our target audience of alumni, the Trustees, and Dr. Jackson; this peaceful demonstration application was baselessly denied by the Dean of Students, who cited the main issue as a lack of security personnel. This has since been proven not to be the case, as RPI has solicited the support of a private security firm, the Troy Police Department, New York State Police, and federal agencies on that date and time to keep protesters from approaching the sites of certain Reunion & Homecoming events.

It has become clear that the RPI administration cares more about controlling the message projected to alumni donors than for the rights and safety of their own students. Regardless, we won’t be silenced by an oppressive and overreaching administration, and we will not sit idly by while they seize our beloved student-run Union out from under us. Our resolve is stronger than ever and our hearts are true, and our mission is something the administration has repeatedly and flagrantly failed to achieve: reflect the interests of our community, and that is to protect and preserve the Union as a student-run entity. Look for us everywhere at Reunion & Homecoming and join us—we’ll be peacefully demonstrating outside of EMPAC and the surrounding areas beginning at 4 pm on Friday, October 13th even when they erect barricades and bring in outside security. We’ll be wearing ribbons symbolizing the Union’s arches at every reunion event. We’ll be hanging up posters in support of our Union. We’ll be wearing black as a statement to mourn the loss of our Union’s student-run status.

If you’ve ever had lunch with friends in the Union, been a member of a club or played a sport at RPI, attended a comedy show or concert sponsored by the Student Activity Fee, did banking in the Union or shopped at the bookstore, or participated in any of the other countless Union-related activities, events, and services now or during your time as a student, we ask you to join our ranks and fight alongside us to send a message that a student-run Union is integral not only to preserve 127 years of rich history and tradition of successful student leadership, but to create unparalleled opportunities for students in the future. We truly love RPI and don’t want to hurt our university, but at this point, the administration continues to push their agenda without any regard for opposing viewpoints—even when those in disagreement number in the thousands, if not more—and the only way to get their attention is by withholding donations. Thus, the biggest impact alumni can make is by refusing to donate to the Institute until this issue is resolved and the administration relinquishes their hold on our Union, and we urge you to withhold donations in a show of solidarity. Please join us in sending a clear message to Dr. Jackson and the Board of Trustees that usurping our student-run Rensselaer Union is unacceptable.

Please consider signing the petition in support of a student-run Rensselaer Union, and forward this letter to your classmates and any other RPI alumni you may know.

For more information and daily updates on the Save the Union movement, check out our website and follow us on social media:

Twitter: @save_rpis_union
Facebook: SaveTheRPIUnion
Instagram: @save_rpis_union

If you would like to contact us with any questions, comments, or concerns, we may be reached at

Save the Union