“I have established a school at the north end of Troy, in Rensselaer county, in the building usually called the Old Bank Place, for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life. My principal object is, to qualify teachers for instructing the sons and daughters of farmers and mechanics, by lectures or otherwise, in the application of experimental chemistry, philosophy and natural history, to agriculture, domestic economy, the arts and manufactures”
-Stephen Van Rensselaer, 5 November 1824
Remember remember the 5th, friends. This Saturday, our dear old RPI has her 187th birthday. Saturday marks the date of this letter, sent from Stephen Van Rensselaer, laying out the goals and method of implementation of his institute. It details the goals that Van Rensselaer had in establishing the school, and reminds us all, that as members of the community, we are a part of something, much, much larger than ourselves. We’ll be having a meeting in commons circle this Friday to mark the occasion (Invite friends here), for the below.
Your time here at RPI is important. You have entered into a vision nearly 200 years in the making. It’s up to all of us here to see that vision grow. An academic institute depends on the livelihood of the community, on a feeling of unity, optimism, and above all, determination. We are the product of cold northeastern winters perched on a windy, ice blown plateau of a hill. We are the result of routinely pulling all nighters to cram your skull chock-full of knowledge, and upon receipt of “satisfactory” grade, being told that you’ve only begun to scratch the surface. That’s the game here at RPI. That’s why our alumni go out to change the world.
Despite the fire in the belly it instills, it’s a fragile system. In an academic realm that’s becoming increasingly commercialized, RPI is one of the last hold outs. There’s a reason recruiters will give you some lee-way on your GPA when they see the name attached to it. Here, the numbers come second. Here, your understanding of the subject matter is held to a higher standard, and somehow, we find a way to meet it. That’s entirely how Van Rensselaer intended it.
And that, is where the fragility comes from. It doesn’t take much time on campus to see that those that make up the core of our academic here aren’t happy. Our professors have a number of things that makes life here difficult, and that keeps them from providing the education that you paid good money for. These are things that we’ve entrusted to the institution to take care of, things which have failed. Professors that do stay here, do so out of a love of the academic community here. That is a credit to RPI, but not necessarily the administration. Indeed, we are here, we are upset, because we feel the hands of our teachers are bound, and fundamentally the community that took the better part of TWO CENTURIES to make is being undermined.
When I hear professors that have been here for the vast majority of their life describe the situation as dismal, I worry. When I hear past GM’s tell me that receiving the publications RPI puts out to inform alumni makes them sick, and they refuse to come back for alumni weekend, I wonder if my degree has bought me access to the alumni support other schools have. I wonder why professors don’t want me to share their names when I talk to them about these things. I wonder why it is that people who were clearly doing this community good, were dismissed. I wonder how long all of it can last before the whole system collapses.
But after our last meeting, after all the support we’ve been receiving, all the people we’re working with, the alumni who have reached out to us, the media outlets we’re coming into contact with, I have moments where all I wonder is how I ever thought that last question could be anything more than a thought experiment.
This is OUR school. The quality of your education is at risk. Your access to our vibrant community of alumni is being deteriorated. You have almost no say in how the tuition money you worked hard for goes to use, and neither does the community that you paid it to have access to. The system, it would seem, is due for an inspection. The good news, is despite the prevailing pessimism, despite the stagnancy that you may have come to view as inherent, we HAVE the power to address these problems.
So this November 5th, come be outside commons with us, as we remember remember a November 5th 187 years ago. We’ll have a quick rally, and then we’ll be asking all in attendance to help distribute materials.
Stephen Van Rensselaer said it best: “Whether my expectations will ever be realized or not. I am willing to hazard the necessary expense of making the trial.” We owe him the same commitment. It has been realized, and there’s no way we’re letting it slip away without a fight.
We are ARG.
We are here until it’s done.
We are an inherit product of problems in the system and will therefore only be gone when they are.
Get used to it.
Now then, who wants to help change the world?