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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.

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  1. Al Richard
    June 5th, 2010 at 20:37 | #1

    I agree that the politics of this decision (to build Dr. Jackson a new home during an economic crisis and institute budget crisis) were very poorly thought out by the Board of Trustees. However, I did see the previous home and, to say the least, it looked like a house that had a bunch of amateurs attempt to put on some additions themselves. With respect to the size: I’m from Maryland. The president’s home at the university of Maryland is a former plantation mansion and is about the size of the Sage Labs building. Let’s not get too caught up in the design. It’s a gift from the board for a president who has done a pretty amazing job at changing RPI into quite a prestigious institution in a 10 year period. To fix any one of the issues mentioned in your blog post would take much more than a one-time gift of $3.8 million dollars.

    HOWEVER, I feel that the Board in general has done a poor job of really connecting with us, the students, to see exactly what WE think the administration needs to focus on. The omission of a LANGUAGE program at RPI is absurd. Had I known RPI was going to do this before I enrolled, I SURELY would have never chosen this school. That lack of academic diversity is a deal-breaker. Also, the condition of MANY classrooms in the DCC and Ricketts and the CII and Walker (get the idea?) NEED to be completely redone. North and E-Complex are sad excuses for housing at a Top 50 institution. Capital projects that affect students EVERY DAY are what we’re interested in. As interesting and cool as EMPAC, BioTech, and ECAV are as capital “platforms”, most of us don’t pass through them/use them every single day or even every single week.

    Back to academics, you know what most students would love? They’d love to see bad professors FIRED. They’d love to see a campaign to make teaching materials (textbooks, lab manuals) CHEAPER. We’d love to see MORE diversity in courses, LESS bureaucratic difficulty in communication with the administration, and WAY more of an effort to help broaden our academic experiences from being just a 2 hour lecture in a classroom to something in a foreign country, guest speakers, and more courses that are taken IN the fields we are studying.

    If the administration and Board would simply write a letter to US, the tuition (and therefore, salary)-paying members of the community ACKNOWLEDGING what we’re saying and HOW they plan to fix it, I feel students would be much happier. They’d make more of an effort to show school spirit. They’d actually attend events like Winter Carnival. And efforts like the CLASS initiative might actually succeed.

    I’m one of the more optimistic students, if only because when I run home during breaks (such as this one) I want to be able to boast HOW awesome RPI is and HOW much everyone who goes there LOVES it. Right now I can’t do that. And that really sucks. I’m a rising sophomore and to run headlong into college life only to be blocked by a wall of apathy and disappointment really deflates me on a regular basis. I want so bad to love it here. The administration needs to know that students like me exist. We’re not rooting for them to fail. We want them to succeed. And, in my eyes, they will never truly succeed without the support of the students they claim so often to be dutifully serving.

  2. alepine
    June 7th, 2010 at 21:34 | #2

    For me the classrooms without sufficient desks is not a big deal. Residence halls that are falling down…I lived in North Hall for three years…it was good enough for me. I must say North could use some upkeep. One of the rooms had a ceiling that leaked water onto my the bed of the guy sleeping there. The oven did not work. These things were fixed through lobbying. Contact the right people and things do get done. Don’t sit and complain take action and be resilient. Some of my goals did not materialize until a year of constant gnawing on it.

    My unfinished goal is to get the temperature fixed in Sage Labs and Ricketts. You should take this up as a goal. If you work on it for the rest of your time at RPI you will make headway. Every day think about it. Write down your ideas. Research different solutions. Talk to different people. Every day, you will be closer. When your ready call up the man in charge of Campus Facilities. Talk to him about your goal and ask him how he suggests getting there. Leave your mind open to his or anyone elses suggestions. Don’t be defeated by setbacks. Endure. I have done this already, I have been through this process. I have thought, researched and talked to trustees about my goals. Things get done if you do them.

    Al Richard- Most people who go to RPI do love it or at least like it. You may be misinterpreting “complainers” as being genuine, when in reality they would complain about any other school or topic. I would say that when you say apathy you are probably talking about all the people who do think RPI is great and therefore don’t think it needs to change or they have different priorities than you.

  3. Jay Walker
    June 9th, 2010 at 13:43 | #3

    @alepine
    What you wrote is absolutely true. I think most people don’t have a I can fix this attitude and its partially because they don’t know they can fix things and also partially because taking that kind of initiative requires a special type of person.

    One good resource is student government. Student government does this kind of thing regularly and they can assist you with finding who the right person to talk to is and how they are to talk to. They can definitely assist you in whatever you want to pursue and I wouldn’t be surprised if what you wanted to pursue is something they’d do themselves if they had more time.

  4. Undergrad
    June 10th, 2010 at 06:55 | #4

    @alepine

    @Jay Walker

    I’m all for people taking initiative to solve, or at least report problems, but why is it up to the students to research and come up with plans to fix the numerous problems on campus? At this point, all relevant administrators know of the problems with Sage/Ricketts. It is their building, after all. If they cared about it, they would conduct their own research and feasibility study (which may have already happened) and act on it. My guess is they have looked into it and decided the repair is more expensive than just dealing with it and the accompanying complaints.

    Small problems like your broken oven… call fix and make phone calls until it is taken care of. But should we as students really be the ones responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of major institute resources like academic buildings?

  5. Georgi
    June 10th, 2010 at 14:41 | #5

    Not to mention – the Greene Building is not up to fire code. How many more buildings on campus are likewise?

  6. Interesting
    June 12th, 2010 at 22:45 | #6

    Part of the problem with this entire debate is that it’s considered a home for Dr. SAJ. It’s not. It’s a home for the president, who currently happens to be the SAJ, but will not always be. This is an investment in the future of RPI. What the editors (and almost everyone opposed to the house) is overlooking is that this is not just a residence; it’s a venue the president, whoever that may be, will entertain potential donors, future and current trustees, and anyone else that may bring prosperity to the tute. This project is a stepping stone to get the necessary funding for all the problems the editors noted. Yes, these are all things that need to be fixed, but even with the trustees’ donations, we would come up short in making these fixes without more funds.

    I completely agree that the administration and the trustees have done a terrible job communicating their reasoning to us, and that their timing was bad, but at this point, the thing’s getting built. Let’s look forward and try to establish a dialog with the administration and trustees to say where we would like to see their next donation spent. Continuing to create negativity toward a decision that’s a done deal won’t solve the problems you seem to be so adamant about fixing. Getting the word out about them is great, but communicate it to the people who can change it. Jay walker had it right: start with student government. There are some fresh faces in there this year that seem really committed to students’ issues. Go to them with your suggestions; I’m sure they’ll listen.

    PS: If you’ve ever worked in an office (or been in any public building, for that matter) you’d know that climate control issues aren’t unique to RPI.

  7. Ryan
    June 15th, 2010 at 20:15 | #7

    As long as they give off-hour tours of the compound, I’ll be happy!

  8. RPImember
    June 15th, 2010 at 22:37 | #8

    now we know she’ll have the time to use it: http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=2738

  9. Anonydude
    August 5th, 2010 at 15:01 | #9

    @alepine

    I’m sorry, but I happen to a *student* who is, uh, generally speaking, *studying*. It is my job at RPI to learn and do work, not to fix dorms or classrooms. Are you nuts?

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