RIT Policy Revisions
by Morgan LaMere | published Mar. 5th, 2019
If you’ve ever wondered how RIT functions, or why they do things a certain way, you can probably find out through their various implemented policies. With about 81 different policies split into multiple sections, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for if you have the time.
RIT’s policies are divided into bylaws, general institute, educational, faculty and staff sections. They cover everything from smoking regulations to students' privacy on campus.
Written and revised primarily by the RIT legal office under Bobby Colón, policies have wide-reaching impacts all across campus: from students to faculty and staff. As such, all three groups are represented when it comes to revising them.
Ironically, there is a policy that dictates when to revise policies, as Nicole Boulais associate vice president in Student Affairs, explained.
“RIT policy ... suggests all policies need to be reviewed in a certain number of years,” she said.
Boulais oversees Student Government (SG), among other organizations, as one of their advisers. Her jurisdiction also covers student conduct and Title IX. It is this engagement that draws her into many policy revisions.
“[I have been] asked to serve and represent the division on a number of committees around policy revisions or policy writing,” Boulais explained.
The process around revising policies depends on the scope of the policy. Proposals related to academic and faculty governance matters are reviewed and approved by Academic Senate and the president.
Proposals regarding university-level governance are where it gets complicated. Revisions are introduced to University Council and are then presented to the three governing bodies. According to Boulais, almost all "C" policies, such as C7 on privacy and C23 on relationships, go through these three bodies.
“The three bodies being student government, staff council and academic senate,” Jacob Ellis said, chair of academics and co-ops committee for SG.
Ellis, along with the rest of SG, is one of the stops a policy has to make before it is approved by University Council.
The three bodies, representing the student, staff and faculty voice respectively, are meant to ensure equal representation in deciding important policies. The revisions must pass all three of these bodies to be implemented.
One of the policies currently under revision is the topic of privacy.
The C7 policy covers basic things such as search and seizure, and what rights a student has to privacy while on private property. In practice, it pertains to private emails on an RIT computer, bringing backpacks into events, and other similar topics. Generally, it is an accepted policy.
“The policy, as it’s currently written — there are not many challenges to it. People largely accept it,” Boulais said.
According to Ellis, the former policy outlined many of the same concepts as the new one. A few additions were made, however, including the new policy of monitoring guest wireless accounts.
Even so, the policy revisions, as presented, were turned down by SG.
“We had a lot more questions than we had answers to,” explained Ellis. “Bringing it up stirred the pot a little bit.”
While similar to the old one, student representatives began to look closer at the policy — especially now as we have been seeing countless privacy violations from corporations and other entities. Now, the issue holding the policy back are things that never came up before, and simple rewording of existing procedures.
For example, in the new policy, RIT stated they will begin to adhere to New York state law that states in order to record in a semi-public location, you’re supposed to provide notice. This is something that has already happened but is only just now being put into writing.
This is not the only example recently of a contentious policy being implemented.
C11: Free Speech Policy
Recently, discussions were held over revising an outdated and debated freedom of speech policy. Due to its importance, the committee, which Boulais is a part of, spent the better part of a year educating themselves on the subject and what other schools were doing.
“That policy was up for review, it hadn’t been looked at [in about 30 years],” Boulais said.
According to Boulais, the policy had within it ideas and verbiage from the 60s and 70s. It was not as bad as it could have been, but ties to the Vietnam era could clearly be felt. In the end, the core ideas behind the free speech policy didn’t change much.
“We continued with what we had, which is to effectively follow [a] constitutional approach,” Boulais said.
Regarding concern felt by students over this stance toward free speech, Boulais responded with a reconfirmation of RIT’s responsibility to help students.
“In the effort to protect free speech, that doesn’t mean that we won’t serve and support students who feel as if, or might generally be harmed by that speech,” she said.
As policies like these have such a large impact on the student body, the administration has taken strides to ensure the student populace is represented.
The Student Voice
First and foremost, the student's voice lies in SG. According to Boulais, SG is often better positioned to give feedback on policies they know more on than the student body as a whole.
This is not to say that students’ voices aren’t heard elsewhere. Students can get direct input of SG's student affairs committee. Open forums are not required in the revision process but are often implemented in policies that will directly affect students. During the C23 revisions to consensual relationships, there was a lot of student feedback, including committees with student representatives. Students' opinions are often valued higher than other bodies.
“We always like to use the example of smoking,” said Ellis. “Even if the majority is in favor or against something, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the university has to take that stance.”
Staff and faculty voted vastly in the majority for no smoking anywhere on campus, but SG voted as a whole to allow smoking in designated locations. If it were a simple majority vote, there would be no smoking; however, then-President Bill Destler looked at the individual arguments and sided with students.
One frequent problem though, in incorporating the students voice, is not lack of opportunities, but lack of interest.
“It doesn’t matter to you until it matters to you,” Boulais said.
Many students either don’t have the time or interest in reading huge amounts of policy changes they don’t see affecting them.
“Policy probably matters more than most people think that it does,” Boulais said.
She feels that communities need to be more willing to voice feedback and just to pay attention to what these policies are about. She suggested asking SG representatives for information on individual policies. Anyone can give feedback about a policy at any time, and every student has the right to request a certain policy be looked at; they don’t have to wait for the scheduled revisions.
“We’re all really fortunate to go to RIT ... In a lot of ways, RIT does not have to adhere to other regulations public universities have,” Ellis said.
As a private institution, RIT has the right to monitor mostly whatever they please on their property, while a public university is required to follow certain state mandates.
“The fact that so many of RIT’s [policies] mirror what a public institution has is really fortunate for us," Ellis said. "So, I think students sometimes take these things for granted.”
Ellis suggests students stay updated and stay informed. A lot of these changes can and will directly impact the way they live on campus.