(The following appeared as an Op/Ed in the December 7, 2011 edition of the Rensselaer Polytechnic, available online at http://poly.rpi.edu/2011/12/07/jackson_not_issue__bot_should_be_fired/.)
Jackson not issue; BoT should be fired
On Monday, November 28, the Student Senate passed a resolution strongly criticizing the Jackson administration. The reaction by the Jackson administration and by the board of trustees was depressing in its dismissal of the Senate’s legitimate concerns, but ultimately was not surprising. President Shirley Ann Jackson has tasked Vice President for Student Life Timothy Sams to “correct any misunderstanding that led to this resolution”—both declining to address the Senate’s concerns herself and dismissing the Senate’s concerns as a “misunderstanding” instead of a legitimate grievance. The board of trustees, for its part, does “not believe [the recommendations] are well-founded,” going on to say that “the Board endorses President Jackson, and her vision, leadership, pathways, and actions she has brought in the past, brings in the present, and will bring in the future … Her leadership has had a transformative impact on the Institute through the success of The Rensselaer Plan.”
It is clear from these statements that the Jackson administration has the full support of the board of trustees, and no meaningful change could come from replacing her. If the Jackson administration is carrying out the wishes of the board of trustees, it is clear that even eliminating Jackson as president of RPI would most likely result in the board hiring a new president that will continue the same policies that we have come to expect from the Jackson administration.
Most importantly, it is clear from this most recent exchange that the board of trustees is hopelessly out of touch with the needs and desires of the broader campus community—including current students, faculty, staff, and alumni. There is a high level of dissatisfaction on all levels with the policies and actions of the Jackson administration, and the board’s willingness to completely dismiss those concerns should be a clear signal that it is not on our side. In order to achieve significant, lasting change at RPI, the out-of-touch board of trustees must be fired and replaced with members that are sympathetic and understanding of the actual conditions at RPI. Under current conditions, any semblance of meaningful democracy is dead at RPI, and has been replaced with what Grand Marshal Lee Sharma ’12 has aptly called a “culture of fear.”
The Senate’s resolution was admirable, but it didn’t go far enough. In order for RPI to change for the better, we need to deal with the problems at the top—and that means replacing the board of trustees.
Kevin R. Fodness
STSO ’05; GRAD STSO