Opinion: Dr. Jackson’s New Home
The Times Union reports today that the Institute recently informed the City of Troy that Dr. Jackson’s new home has increased in size to 19,500 square feet. To give you a frame of reference, the Executive Mansion (where the governor of New York lives) is 20,000 square feet. That’s nearly half an acre of space. RPI originally reported to the city that the new home would be 9,400 square feet. Her former house was something on the order of 4,000 square feet (if we remember correctly). Another point of reference: the median square footage for a home in the United States is 2,135 square feet (Dr. J’s new home is 913% of the median).
In January, we posted a list of Things More Pressing than a House for the President.
The cost of Dr. Jackson’s new home is estimated to be around $3.8 million, which comes from personal donations from the members of the Board of Trustees. Of course, the Trustees are free to donate their personal money to whomever they want for whatever purpose suits their fancy.
But at the same time, we believe that the Board should be focused on doing what’s most important for the Institute. We have classrooms without sufficient desks for students. We have residence halls that are falling down and students being kicked off campus to live in buildings owned by slumlords. We have student staff members whose salary was cut in half, resulting in an inability to hire enough staff (talking about Reslife here, folks). We have a school floundering in a sea of apathy due to a lack of school spirit. We have faculty stretched to their limits. We have new facilities (think ECAV and EMPAC) that are severely limited in their options to students due to the high costs of staffing (ECAV training room closes at 6 every day?). We have inadequate fire lanes leading to the VCC (according to New York State). We have buildings which are so poorly regulated that we open the windows in the winter to let in the freezing air lest we boil in the heat that plagues buildings such as Sage and Ricketts. Most importantly, we have students who are still not receiving the financial aid they need, despite major Institute increases in financial aid over the past year.
Board of Trustees, let’s fix what we have. With all due respect to Dr. Jackson, she’s already earning more than any other university president in the nation. There are some very critical things that RPI needs, and many of them are listed above. I’m sure anybody in the Administration Division could give you a huge list of necessary renovations to campus that will be put off due to budget cuts. One thing that we didn’t need is a home for Dr. Jackson (despite administration claims about Radon, which could be ameliorated in other ways). Students are desperate for your help and your decision to donate such a huge sum of money to build a mansion for Dr. Jackson to hold fundraisers and other VIP events is, quite frankly, appalling. Of course, we say that under the assumption that a Trustee would want to donate their personal money to the place where it is most needed.
That decision indicates just how far out of touch the members of the Board are with the reality of what’s going on every day at RPI. Somebody needs to seriously open the eyes of the Trustees. It is a reasonable assumption that they want to do everything they can to make RPI a better place, so perhaps they’re just not hearing about the negative aspects.
Even if you disagree with everything that’s been said above, this decision was a political nightmare right from the start. It has sullied RPI’s name to the surrounding community in addition to angering the students, faculty and staff who feel that their views are already underrepresented. Institute Officials used a loophole in the city code to construct a 19,500 square foot house for a president that earns four times as much as President Obama. How did you think this would turn out?
This situation is a debacle, but perhaps it will give students an incentive to improve their communication channels with the Board of Trustees, so that we can inform them of what we really need: decent classrooms, decent labs, decent housing, and so much more.