Why Shirley Ann Jackson Has My Support as Rensselaer President

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Here’s a critical piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education on Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (“Behind RPI’s Highly Paid Chief, Tales of an Imperial Air and Cowed Staff”).

In case you are wondering, here are the major reasons I have consistently backed Dr. Jackson as an alumnus:

  1. She was the person most responsible for defeating an NCAA Division III Legislative Proposal that would have banned the granting of scholarships by Division III institutions that “play up” to Division I in one sport.This would have stopped RPI from granting hockey scholarships, along with Clarkson, St. Lawrence, and Colorado College in Ice Hockey, Hartwick in Water Polo, Johns Hopkins in Lacrosse, and Rutgers-Newark in Men’s Volleyball.  If RPI had lost scholarships for men’s and women’s hockey, it would have fundamentally changed our ability to compete in Division I ice hockey.
  2. Dr. Jackson’s administration has invested a big chunk of institute resources in athletics at all levels as a key component of student life. By this I mean moves like the hiring of Colonel James A. Knowlton as RPI Athletic Director in 2008 and the construction of the East Campus Athletic Village which began opening in 2009.The development of ECAV has allowed RPI to attract student-athletes in sports like soccer and football who are capable of attracting national recognition. Athletes like Andrew Franks who was a 2014 National Pre-Season All American Kicker for Division III.
  3. The construction of major campus facilities such as EMPAC and the Center for Biotechnology (CBIS).  All of them are world-class, and take Rensselaer in directions that it has never gone before.
  4. The hiring of high-achieving faculty such as Robert Linhardt and James Hendler has changed the strategic direction of RPI faculty research.  They fact that they have stayed 8 to 10 years is an indication that Rensselaer is retaining world-renowned people who are doing cutting edge work in fields in which RPI is not traditionally strong.

I’m sure that Dr. Jackson is a hard person for which to work.  She was hired at Rensselaer because we had lost our way institutionally after President George Low was taken from us.  How she presides over the Institute has always been controversial with some faculty and administrators.  Most of those people are now either retired or at other institutions achieving great things in a different setting.

Managing a small, world-class institution like RPI is difficult when many of its competitors have access to the public purse or have much greater endowments or patent libraries than RPI did when Dr. Jackson took office.  But Rensselaer is a great institution that can be world-class if it focuses on the right things.

I think Dr. Jackson and her team are doing that, and the results are still emerging.