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BREAKING NEWS: New Presidential Home to Be Constructed

December 7th, 2009

The email below was just sent to the Rensselaer Community at approximately 4 PM today.  The President will be getting a new home as a result of personal gifts from members of the Board of Trustees to put on more university events.  The funds would not have been available for any other purpose, so no “we could have spent it on” from students, please!

Feel free to post a comment with your thoughts!

To:   The Rensselaer Community
From: William N. Walker, Vice President
Strategic Communications and External Relations
Date: December 7, 2009
Re:   Gift from the Board of Trustees

The following article, describing a commitment made by the Board of
Trustees at its meeting in Troy December 4, has been prepared for the
December 11 issue of Inside Rensselaer. I am sharing it in advance with
the Rensselaer community at the request of Samuel Heffner, Chairman of
the Board of Trustees.


The members of the Rensselaer Board of Trustees have made a commitment
of their personal resources to construct a new building that will serve
as a space for entertaining visitors to the university, and as a
residence for the president.

“The Trustees have decided to make a unanimous collective gift to
Rensselaer in anticipation of our future fund-raising efforts,” said
Samuel F. Heffner ‘56, chairman of the Board of Trustees. “The new
facility will be an important tool for use in our ongoing advancement

The building will be located on the same Tibbits Avenue parcel of land
as the current president’s house, which was constructed in the early
20th century. The existing building has only limited space for
university events, and is no longer suitable for the types of uses
demanded by the burgeoning programs of the Institute, Heffner said.

Rensselaer recently completed the Renaissance at Rensselaer: The
Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a $1.4 billion capital
campaign that funded many of the priorities of The Rensselaer Plan. The
plan included the construction of four major academic and student life
platforms that have contributed to the transformation of Rensselaer as a
fully realized technological research university. The Trustee gift of
the new building lays the groundwork for an even more ambitious
fund-raising effort that is in the early planning stages.

“The success of The Rensselaer Plan under President Jackson’s leadership
has positioned the Institute for future advancement efforts to realize
the next phases of the plan,” Heffner said. “The Trustees see the
commitment to this new facility as a long-term investment in those

The addition of the building will augment other programs, adding to the
suite of facilities created in the Center for Biotechnology and
Interdisciplinary Studies, the Computational Center for Nanotechnology
Innovations, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts
Center, and the East Campus Athletic Village.

“Those facilities gave us spaces we needed for the enhancement of
academic, research, and student life programs,” Heffner said. “A new
building, that enables the president to receive and entertain,
appropriately, Rensselaer constituents, donors, and other high-level
visitors, will enhance our ability to raise funds to support those
programs and anticipated new ones.”

“The transformation of Rensselaer has brought the university onto the
world stage,” Heffner said. “Every major university must have physical
facilities appropriate to its goals. This gift will provide a place that
enables President Jackson and her successors to greet high-level
constituents in a manner that demonstrates the status of Rensselaer as a
major research university.”

A previous private funding effort, with contributions by Rensselaer
alumni and alumnae, supported the construction of the Heffner Alumni
House, which opened in 1989. Since then, the house has become the center
of alumni activity on campus, and has played a role in hosting events
under the capital campaign.

The funds for this new project would not have been available for any
other purpose, Heffner said. “The Trustees have been very generous in
their philanthropic support of the Rensselaer students and faculty. The
gifts the Trustees are making for this new facility are over and above
their other commitments, and represent a unanimous personal investment
by them in the long-term future of Rensselaer,” he said.

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  1. Some RPIer
    December 7th, 2009 at 16:39 | #1

    I don’t want my email to be confiscated, as it happened before, so I won’t comment!

  2. Concerned Student
    December 7th, 2009 at 16:39 | #2

    The money could not have been spent on any other purpose? Are we saying that the Trustees will *only* shell out to build Fearless Leader a new house? Please.

  3. Laid Off
    December 7th, 2009 at 16:40 | #3

    And I was thinking maybe some of the 90 people who lost their jobs last year at RPI might get hired back…but, I guess a new house for the President seems like a better use of the funds. It’s not like she’s the highest compensated university president in the US or something…err, wait, strike that last part.

  4. Bryan
    December 7th, 2009 at 16:43 | #4

    I question the statement that “the funds for this new project would not have been available for any other purpose.” The email clearly states that the gift was simply decided upon among the Trustees. I don’t see any reason that the Trustees could have simply decided to gift the Institute with something more useful than a new building for our highly-paid president to live in and for wealthy benefactors to be wooed by when they come visit.

    You would think that benefactors would be better wooed by more concrete improvements to the Institute to demonstrate that their own donations and gift would be properly used. In fact, it seems that the only reason the funds aren’t available for other more important projects (at least as can be surmised from the email) is a case of mistaken priorities on the part of the Trustees.

  5. Aidan
    December 7th, 2009 at 16:48 | #5

    Honestly, I’m trying so, so hard not to pull one of those “why are they wasting money on this stuff?” comments, but I fear that I have no choice. This is not essential. If we need to host fancy events to get donors to contribute to the school, we have EMPAC and the very classy spaces inside of the BioTech center. The DCC and several living halls need major repairs, undergraduates need more money set aside for MORE academic classes/majors and BETTER (teaching-wise) professors.

    I really hope they release a picture of a decrepit, falling-apart president’s house because that is the only way I will be okay with this “gift” from the Board of Trustees.

    The timing is off on this one, fellas.

  6. Concerned Alumni
    December 7th, 2009 at 17:12 | #6

    While I understand that the money would not have gone towards anything else because it was collected specifically for this purpose, it does not make the fact that they’re building her a new residence any less ridiculous.

    This past weekend there was more than enough thanks given to her for her “hard work and dedication.” When other buildings around campus are in far more dire need of repair, it really makes the goals and priorities of the Board of Trustees clear for the students, faculty, and alumni to understand.

    Yes, this was a specific gift and the money would not have been made available to the school otherwise, but it sure makes the Board of Trustees look as though they are far more concerned about keeping Dr. Jackson and her ability to raise money for the school than they are about what the students’ needs are. While Dr.Jackson’s ability to raise money is important, and her role as fundraiser and her success as a fundraiser cannot be compared to past presidents, it does not mean keeping her around by making sure she is well-thanked with gifts such as these is appropriate or necessary.

    The Board of Trustees could have rallied around any other cause and given money to any other project on campus yet they decided to give money to build something that directly benefits Dr.Jackson. Take these facts as you will. When I read this though, I see it as a direct insult to the students, faculty, and greater RPI community who will only benefit from this great new space when Dr.Jackson is cozy enough there to raise us more money. I may be wrong, but giving this priority seems backwards.

  7. Undergrad
    December 7th, 2009 at 18:41 | #7

    The history of the President’s house can be found at the following link: http://www.lib.rpi.edu/dept/library/html/Archives/buildings/presidents_house.html

    The present structure has been used far longer than any of the previous ones as the president’s house, so it is time for an update. I would have found a remodeling or an addition more fitting, but I intend on withholding final judgement until I see the new building and its corresponding price tag.

    Has anyone heard anything one way or the other regarding updates to student housing? It’s an open secret that the Freshman dorms were built over one summer (3-5 months) in 1953 due to the rapid post-war expansion of the ‘Tute. It’s about time those 56 year old buildings had a makeover. and don’at get me started on the east campus “temporary” housing built in the ’40s which evolved into RAHPs…

  8. Ryan
    December 7th, 2009 at 20:08 | #8

    Does the local historical society know about this plan? I love how the administration and trustees can poke fun at how outdated the DCC is during their speeches at EMPAC this weekend, but somehow find it more important to give Jackson a new house than to update classrooms.

    Jackson should turn down the gift!!!!

  9. Jay Walker
    December 7th, 2009 at 20:10 | #9

    Some RPIer :
    I don’t want my email to be confiscated, as it happened before, so I won’t comment!

    Wait. Your email was confiscated? What?

  10. Other RPI alum
    December 8th, 2009 at 03:38 | #10

    Isn’t it one year or so to the very day that 100 or more RPI workers were laid off with absolutely no notice and marched out of their buildings by security? To announce this homebuilding endeavor now, especially in light of the miserable upstate NY economy, and within hours of completing a huge weekend extravaganza thanking Dr. SAJ …. well, it is galling, to say the least. There are plenty of existing spots now on campus to schmooze visiting big shots. Building her a new house, in addition to already being the highest paid college president is in very, very poor taste to RPI families, students, and alumni. RPI Trustees, open your eyes to the miserable old dorms that need a major facelift, or better yet, a wrecking ball. Build new housing for cash strapped students, not the RPI president who can more than afford a fancy renovation of her current RPI paid residence. Does RPI really need another Public Relations fiasco in the news ???

  11. NSD
    December 8th, 2009 at 07:40 | #11

    Another sad day for RPI’s board of trustees. It would be nice if they could get their noses out of our fearless leaders @$$ for just a few moments now and then, but it appears that is not the case.

  12. Alum
    December 8th, 2009 at 12:08 | #12

    Although it appears to be a lavish endeavor, I concur that it’s a “wait and see” approach. Furthermore I do not think it is wrong for the BOT to pursue this endeavor with their own pool of money/resources. At some point the residence will require a facelift, and given the nature and duties of the “College President” it would behoove the school to facilitate such an endeavor.

    The residence’s use will surpass the tenure of Dr. Jackson, who I presume will probably leave within the next 5 years for her next endeavor. All of these facility upgrades and developments will surpass her time there as well as ours. Might as well capitalize on the BOT’s generosity to finance the construction rather than dip into the revenue stream of donations/student tuition.

    As far as I know the DCC is being looked at for renovations in conjunction with the plans to further expand and develop the J-Rowland Science building. Along with a review of dorm-renovations in the coming years. It’s on the battle-plan, it just takes time to secure the appropriate capital to facilitate such an endeavor.

    Finally I will say it again…this university now has a global platform to build from…only direction is up. Dr. Jackson has provided that prominence to the school…the last president to bring such recognition was George Low. Give it some time…I promise you…within next 5 years, RPI will be joining the top 30 rankings.

  13. Ryan
    December 8th, 2009 at 13:18 | #13


    Insert Heffner, Jackson, Palazzo, and anyone else you see fit. They are all having a wonderful time at the expense of us students.

  14. Other RPI alum
    December 8th, 2009 at 15:52 | #14

    There is a news story and a very active blog on the subject of RPI president’s new home in the Albany Times Union.


    Hey, RPI Trustees, how about fixing the crumbling old dorms FIRST? Can’t the big shot visitors be schmoozed over at Empac or in the BioTech ?

  15. Concerned Student
    December 8th, 2009 at 18:40 | #15

    I just posted this over on the TU comments section, but I feel as though it could bear repeating in a comment section that may actually catch a glance from the administration:
    Half the apathy on campus these days is just stemming from a feeling of abandonment. We’ve tried to get the administration to listen to our concerns, but they merely pat us on the head and assure us everything is okay. I was among the students leading the petitioning to the administration asking for more fiscal transparency. That was more or less brushed off. A lot of us have just given up trying to voice the concerns of the student body because we’d clearly be better off shouting at a brick wall. At least the echo you’d get would let you know that you still had a voice. You never see a Fortune 500 company ignoring its stockholders like this.

    This is not to say that I’m entirely dismissive of President Jackson’s accomplishments at this university. This school has made leaps and bounds in prominence under her reign. Unfortunately, I fear that the mission has been lost. This school has all the features of a great university with the glaring exception of its educational quality. Between the almost willful neglect of the faculty (let’s not forget the Faculty Senate was disbanded after a narrow loss in a vote of no-confidence) and the day-to-day environment of students (half the active teaching classrooms on campus are literally falling apart, let alone the dorms) the student experience at this school is terrible.

    On my way to class everyday, I walk past a gigantic new sports stadium with full conditioning facilities for our Division III athletics program, a massive new performing arts center that rarely sees full use, and a biotechnology center that’s almost entirely useless for the undergraduate student body. All that’s changed is that the school looks better. If anything, it’s become substantially worse for students. I fail to see how President Jackson deserves her salary, let alone this new and throughly unnecessary mansion.

  16. December 8th, 2009 at 19:21 | #16

    I feel like the administration has gotten significantly more frank with us lately. There have definitely been more attempts to inform us of what’s going on and get input. The Greek Commons Agreement is getting feedback, the housing selection process is getting feedback (contrary to what was published here, it’s still in the works). I admit that before there was definitely a gap between students and the administration, but I feel like the gap is starting to be bridged.

    Maybe I’m just optimistic but, being very involved in what goes on campus, that’s my humble opinion. If you dont like it, get involved in more active approaches of changing things instead of merely signing a petition or joining a facebook group. The campus is way too apathetic (though getting better I think).

  17. q
    December 8th, 2009 at 20:12 | #17

    Cara R :
    the housing selection process is getting feedback (contrary to what was published here, it’s still in the works).

    “Contrary to what was published here”? I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but the editors here made it pretty clear that it was only their first proposal. I’m just going to assume by the fact that you directly linked to the Poly’s website, you’re just trying to be condescending.

  18. December 8th, 2009 at 20:45 | #18

    It looks like RPI is just a mirror of the whole country. Millions and billions of dollars for the few at the top and kick the working people to the curb. I don’t understand why 90 or so people were laid off last year when RPI has a $1.4 billion building campaign going on and the president is the highest paid in the country. “Why not change the world?”, indeed.
    A billion dollars isn’t what it used to be.

  19. Chris
    December 9th, 2009 at 01:30 | #19

    It’s an investment in the future. That’s how this game works. You have to spend money to make money.

    You kids would cry if you knew what Yale or Princeton spend on more ‘trivial’ things, but they have some of the highest donation rates in the country. We don’t define the market, we just cater to it.

    Stop asking for handouts.

  20. Other RPI alum
    December 9th, 2009 at 02:33 | #20

    RPI alumni, students, parents, and faculty members might want to share the news of this new presidential residence and their own personal views on the subject with:

    The Chronicle of Higher Education
    1255 Twenty-Third Street, N.W.
    Seventh Floor
    Washington, D.C. 20037
    FAX: 202-452-1033

    News tips, comments, suggestions, and corrections:


    Letters to the editor can also be sent to:


  21. December 9th, 2009 at 11:30 | #21


    Hi q,

    When the editors use the headline “housing selection announced,” that’s what people say first and propagate. ANNOUNCED does not mean “in the works,” it means “finalized.” If it had been “Potential housing process announced,” that’s totally different.

    Everyone on campus isn’t thinking that it’s just a proposal … they are mostly going around and saying it’s fact and thus, planning accordingly. So yes, RPInsider may have detailed that it was just a plan in the actual writing but the headline (which is what everyone READS!!) is blatantly wrong. Which is really poor oversight, esp if they got the story right in the text.

    by the way, i’m not trying to be condescending (forgot I was linked to the poly website honestly), and even if you think I am … well, tough luck. I’m stating things as they are. I’ve been supportive of this blog in the past and I’ll continue to do so, as long as students get the CORRECT information from it.

    See: http://www.rpinsider.com/archives/1020 if you don’t believe that.

    And again, people should use their names!!!! Take responsibility for what you say. And if you really care that much, mr.q, get freakin’ involved instead of posting anonymously on a blog–it doesn’t do much for the campus except make you seem whiny.

  22. Anon E. Mous
    December 9th, 2009 at 15:06 | #22

    @Cara R
    To be fair to the editors, it’s not unreasonable to call it announced considering most of the other “drafts” the administration has released have been identical to their final versions, without taking into account student input. And it does also say it’s a draft, which if anyone really cares about it, they’ll read further and find that. But you’re right, the wording does suggest it’s set in stone, which isn’t confirmed, and people are probably getting the wrong impression.

    Also, may I suggest moving this discussion to the comments section of that post? It doesn’t really seem to fit here…

  23. Some RPIer
  24. December 11th, 2009 at 20:25 | #24

    @Anon E. Mous

    Yup, and I was only responding to something someone picked out here to quote me on =) That’s why it was here.

  25. Other RPI alum
    December 11th, 2009 at 21:09 | #25

    There is a serious critique of the RPI presidential housing matter on another blog devoted to college education. It cites the Albany Times Union story by Chris Churchill and its associated school news blog which first brought the issue to light.

    The article is:

    An Update on the Imperial Presidency up at RPI


    By the way, tonight’s NBC Nightly News ended with a story about the Robin Hood Foundation which utilizes a full 100 percent of every donation to help poor NYC residents. ALL administrative costs are paid by the prestigious members of its Board of Directors which include Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw among many others listed on its website. The Robin Hood Foundation Board is even committing to a 2 year matching grant of up to $100 million.


    If the RPI Trustees are going to spend money for a new presidential mansion for Dr. SAJ to entertain VIPs, but they refuse to pay to rehab antiquated, substandard RPI dormitories, couldn’t the Trustees find some other kind of deserving charity in the Albany/Troy?

    There is more than enough party space in EMPAC and the BioTech building to impress visiting Big Shots. The 100 or more former RPI employees who were let go without warning one year ago would probably concur. The Troy residents who diligently pay city property taxes while RPI maintains its tax exempt status would also likely agree.

    Keep up the good work, RPInsider !!

  26. Kid Cudi
    February 10th, 2010 at 19:37 | #26

    @Cara R

    You probably haven’t been a student long enough to know about the Greek initiatives or any of the other things that occured when the class of 09 came in.

    When the administration proposes something…its going into effect whether you like it or not. The proposal is just to add to the ‘transparency’

  1. December 11th, 2009 at 09:19 | #1
  2. January 18th, 2010 at 21:26 | #2
  3. March 1st, 2010 at 13:59 | #3
  4. July 12th, 2010 at 15:29 | #4