by Save the Union
Respect must be earned. In no position—elected, appointed, hired, or chosen—is a person entitled to boundless respect, and any action taken by a person will itself determine its appropriate response. Recently, the RPI administration has taken bold actions to deceive and upend the free will of its students in spite of promising otherwise. This set in motion the beginnings of a calculated response with the goal of raising awareness that such events are taking place. Our efforts have continuously included the highest regard for common courtesy, Institute rules, and adherence to facts, and most of the RPI community seems to not only understand the grievances and goals of the Save the Union movement, but fully support it as well. However, the recent editorial/opinion piece penned by the the Senior Board of The Polytechnic made it clear they misunderstand our intent.
Unfortunately, the administration at RPI does not appear to be bound by any professional canon of ethics. They manage what has increasingly become a business, replete with extensive middle management and handsomely-paid executives who serve little to no educational function. To the extent that it does not violate the law, they can and have engaged in acts of deception, misdirection, coercion, and lying—both directly and by omission. These people—and they are people, not a faceless administration—have shown time and time again that they are willing to say and do anything to shrewdly achieve their clandestine, unilateral goals. Occasionally, as with the unapproved changes to the Student Handbook, they cross the line into bold-faced lying to gain substantial new powers. Oftentimes, such power grabs are disguised with empty words in an attempt to confuse readers. On occasion, these pretexts are shockingly and decidedly more blatant, such as the recent bait-and-switch regarding control of the 125-year-old, traditionally student-run Rensselaer Union.
Sadly, the story has become an all-too-familiar one for RPI students. The template is much the same each time: out of the blue, an RPI functionary announces a bold new policy, one which tends to a) put more money into RPI’s pockets, b) increase the power of that person’s portfolio, c) significantly regulate the lives of students, or, ideally for the administration, d) all of the above. Frequently, these policies fly under the radar, but every once and while, members of the RPI community take notice; notably, the students and alumni. At that point, sensible questions are posed about feasibility, process, and the like, yet they are quickly brushed aside, unanswered. With the policy slated to go into effect, opposition support is rallied, and criticisms are hurled. On the rare occasions when critics are successful, hasty promises about seeking proper input, realigning processes, and maintaining good communication in the future are made. Over the next winter or summer break, these assurances are casually and shamelessly broken and the policy, sans the parts unacceptable to the president or trustees, goes into effect. If the policy is especially incompetent or egregious, as many as four to five years may pass before it is implemented over objections, over reason, and without the slightest pretense at an inclusive process.
Any media, campus media included, can and should struggle with when to single-out an individual in a large organization. That person should have a certain amount of autonomy with regards to defining and defending both the policy in question and the manner of its implementation, and their behavior should be sufficiently outside of ethical and moral norms as to shock the conscience of the writer. At present, we believe that person to be Dr. Frank Ross, a man whose casually amoral and needlessly vicious attitude toward student leaders bold enough to question him borders on downright shocking, even given the low standards to which we hold RPI’s leadership. If The Polytechnic believes otherwise or holds itself to different standards, that is fine. But, demanding that students police the content of their speech—to censor the truth—is just laughable. Such a demand is based on imagined harm to a communications channel that has never existed, in pursuit of respect that is at best a ploy, and removes the only influence students have ever had over dishonest policy decisions—humiliation.
When the RPI administration lies—either to students’ faces or by omission—they are not showing respect to students. Calling out people for lying is not disrespect. Putting up posters on campus referring to heinous administrative acts is not disrespect. Save the Union is comprised of students past and present. The Polytechnic, too, is made up of students. Save the Union represents a plethora of students, alumni, faculty, and staff, who are or were involved in all aspects of campus life; enough that the administration cannot simply throw more buzzwords into the mix, enough to force them to respond to us as dominant partners in the enterprise, not as customers to be patronized. While The Polytechnic’s recent article on the subject reads as though it is an email from Dr. Ross himself, we must remember this distances us from our goals. As students heavily rely upon the Union’s educational, technical, and physical infrastructure—with many even calling it a “home away from home”—we should all be fighting for the continuance of its current operation.