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Recently, the student government of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute decided to file a complaint with the New York Board of Regents over the behavior of its administration. In an editorial in the school paper, they lay out a case against the Board of Trustees in considerable detail. Briefly summarizing:

  • President Shirley Ann Jackson appointed a new Director of the Union without consulting the (student-elected) Executive Board of the Union.
  • The (student-elected) Grand Marshal and President of the Union were also deliberately excluded from the hiring process.
  • The Board of Trustees allocated Union funds and office space for this new director without consulting the E-board.
  • The administration had previously removed athletics funding from the Union budget, unilaterally and without student involvement.
  • The Union is purportedly student-run, and has a constitution which prohibits all of the above actions.
  • Various administrators made false or misleading statements to the student body. The editorial gives numerous specific examples.

They also write:

We are appalled by this most blatant violation of student rights and the Rensselaer Union Constitution to date, and we censure this further attack on what once was a model for student-run unions across the country. Because of the level of severity at which the administration has violated the Union Constitution and, therefore, the Act of Incorporation passed by the New York State Legislature, we will be filing a formal complaint with the Board of Regents of the New York State Education Department regarding these incidents.

(Emphasis added.)

I have not been able to find a copy of the complaint itself, but I assume it would reiterate most of the material described above. It could possibly also cite some earlier unpleasantness involving faculty government, and/or several instances of the administration interfering with students who tried to lawfully protest it (most recently this one).

(It's also rather impressive that RPI managed to annoy both AAUP and FIRE in such a short period of time.)

What are the likely outcomes of this complaint? Will the Regents do anything, or is this going to get stuck in a drawer and forgotten?

  • 2
    Filing a complaint may be a requirement before one is able to seek legal action. – A. K. Sep 24 '18 at 20:21
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What are the likely outcomes of this complaint? Will the Regents do anything, or is this going to get stuck in a drawer and forgotten?

It is hard to speculate on the outcome without reading the complaint, the relief requested therein, and the circumstances. In line with TTE's comment, this complaint with the Board of Regents might be a prelude to filing a complaint in court. First the plaintiff(s) will need to pursue any and all administrative remedies the Board of Regents has established, lest the complaint in court be dismissed for failure to exhaust them.

If administrative remedies are inapplicable or exhausted, the Board of Regents insofar as "an arm of the state" (?) will most likely try to elude judicial proceedings by alleging governmental or sovereign immunity. That is what the University of Illinois pursued when Dr. Salaita sued it; that is what the University of Michigan pursued when I sued it; and I am sure that this happens in many other situations. Basically these institutions supposedly "devoted to the betterment of the world" engage in despicable practices, and then they cowardly hide behind the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution.

Note: It is always important to bear in mind that this criticism refers to such universities' corrupt managers/directors --the so-called "leaders"-- and their lawyers; obviously not to the researchers, clerks, tradesmen, nor other staff who keep these institutions up and running.

In the event that the NY Board of Regents fails to persuade the court about its entitlement to immunity, the court might grant injunctive relief for the purpose of reversing the effects of the misconduct that plaintiffs denounce in court. But that really depends on what relief is requested in the complaint (or amendment thereof).

  • Note that the Regents Board is very much an "arm of the state" in New York. It is not part of any particular university, and is also responsible for many things entirely unrelated to higher education (for example, it standardizes testing for high school students). – Kevin Sep 25 '18 at 2:59
  • Setting aside your political beliefs, what is the legal basis for a particular outcome being likely? – user6726 Oct 25 '18 at 15:24
  • @user6726 The legal basis would be whether the union's constitution & bylaws are cognizable as binding to the defendant; whether defendant's acts constitute material violations of those bylaws; whether the violations go beyond the scope of sovereign immunity (if the matter end up in court with sovereign immunity being used as defense or grounds for dismissal); whether the court has jurisdiction & authority to grant the relief requested; whether the union's evidence prevails over the board's defenses/evidence; to name some. (I would not have thought that this would merit a down vote, BTW). – Iñaki Viggers Oct 25 '18 at 15:55
  • You might then edit out the political ranting. – user6726 Oct 25 '18 at 16:00
  • @user6726 It is not political ranting. You surely know that sovereign immunity is not about politics, but a legal doctrine to which public agencies often resort. I cited two cases (one of them mine) where two such state agencies (public universities) did so. An answer should not be censured merely because it includes a practical remark which itself is premised on verifiable facts. – Iñaki Viggers Oct 25 '18 at 16:08

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