Letters to the Editor

Jones Departs, but Policies Remain

We were all saddened by the news of Marilee Jones’ resignation. In reacting, we must recognize and learn from two elements that may seem to be at odds with one another: Marilee’s contributions over the years and her mistakes. And we must move forward.

Marilee’s influence was widely felt. The message of “being” vs. “doing,” quality over quantity, and injecting sanity into the way parents and students approach college admissions, came at an important time for our culture, and is one that resonated deeply with many. At the same time, what Marilee did was wrong. While we don’t expect our applicants to be perfect, we do require them to be truthful. And we must hold ourselves to that standard.

I want to reassure everyone on this campus that our admissions process is, and always has been, extremely rigorous and fair. Before any applicant is accepted, that person’s application passes through five stages of review and is evaluated by multiple selection teams comprised of admissions officers, faculty, and members of the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid. This meritocratic and committee-based process is as rigorous and thorough as you will find anywhere. It has been basically the same for more than fifty years, stretching over the tenures of half a dozen deans and directors. And while we are always striving for improvement, we are very proud of this process and, most importantly, of its demonstrated results.

The admissions office has a profound responsibility. We love what we do, connecting world-class students who have a passion to change the world with the world-class faculty and resources that can successfully prepare them to do that. The students who enter MIT bring with them the talent, the hope, and the courage that energizes this campus. It is this energy that inspires all of us to reach higher, and to go further.

I remember the first time I felt this energy, arriving on campus as a freshman, 25 years ago. The special MIT culture lifted me up during my years as an undergraduate. After four years in Course II, and twenty years in various roles in the athletic department, alumni association, and admissions office, I retain a profound appreciation for this culture, which encourages students to be incredibly engaged and think that nothing is impossible.

The real mission of the admissions office is to enroll not only the best students in the world, but also those who are best matched to MIT’s culture: students who will take full advantage of the opportunities here, and who will add to the diversity and vibrancy of the living and learning community.

There is a deep trust placed in us by the MIT community, and indeed, by the world. I, and the outstanding staff in the admissions office, re-affirm our pledge to uphold the ideals of MIT and to demand of ourselves the same high standards of excellence, fairness, and rigor in our admissions process as MIT holds throughout the institution.

We are committed to learn from the past as we create the future.

Interim Dean of Admissions

Jones’ Policies Improved Admissions

I am a recent alumnus of MIT living in California. I regretted learning about former Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones’ misstatement of her education, and understand the need for mitigating actions for the sake of MIT’s integrity. More on this, but first, a story:

A few weeks ago I chanced to meet a certain eight year old at an outdoor birthday party here in Silicon Valley where I work now. For some reason this boy (we’ll call him Sanjay) had recently made it his life’s goal to attend MIT. Given his interest, his parents wondered if I could say a thing or two about the Institute to him.

I walked over to Sanjay and fiddled with my Brass Rat to get it off the finger to which it has become permanently affixed. I showed him the rat, describing its connection to engineering, and what it meant to be an engineer. He understood, but was shy, and ran off shortly. I began conversing with his parents, a little skeptical about whether his parents had planted the suggestion in him about the Institute. They held that they had nothing to do with his obsession; they had applied no pressure whatsoever, he had simply come home one day saying “I want to go to MIT!” Presumably he heard talk of it at school.

They asked me about what it took to get into a place like that. I was proud to expound to them that to get into a place like MIT, first and foremost, an applicant has to demonstrate a passion for something — anything — worthwhile, maybe through a project, athletic competition, or production of some sort to which they’ve dedicated significant time and effort. If the something is science- or technology-oriented, that might be helpful, but it’s not required, so long as the applicant also demonstrates an enthusiasm for disciplines or opportunities that MIT offers.

It made me even more proud to describe to Sanjay’s parents how admissions philosophy has changed since when I applied to colleges in 1999. Back then, the overriding goal for high school seniors was to get involved in as many activities as possible outside of classes — the ominous “extracurricular activities” list awaited inside every application, and it demanded its one-liner encapsulations of recently-joined activities. Of course, the expectation that one would need an SAT score in the high fifteen hundreds and a grade point average in excess of 4.3 was also omnipresent.

Based on the latter point of view, my own application was far from exemplary. I wasn’t involved in ten student groups, activities, and sports. Throughout more of my time at MIT than I care to admit, I amused myself by imagining the clerical error that must have taken place to cause my application to find itself in the “Accepted” pile. Only later did I become confident that my entry was no mistake, just another result of informed though no less selective admissions policies. My lifelong involvement in theatrical performance, plus a collaborative robotics project that I initiated (the first of several), went to bat for me instead of such distinguishing academic achievement.

Under Marilee Jones and her policies, the MIT admissions office saw fit to look past the hard facts of my situation to try and understand what better defined me. Allow me to extend Ms. Jones the same courtesy: As her career progressed, under the stifling pressure that her snowballing transgression must have imposed on her, she might have cowered from the public eye, the better to insulate herself from prying questions of the sort that have lead to her predicament today. Instead, she was vocal, advocating the policies that I had the luxury of casually describing to the fledgling family. She went so far as to write a book on the topic. This is someone who is strong enough to execute on her calling without looking back. Isn’t this a value we should strive to impress on our own graduates?

Marilee Jones made a mistake, and could not bring herself to correct it as she painted herself into a dark corner. In the process, she also championed policies that redeem and enhance the quality of life of prospective freshmen, not to mention eight-year-old Sanjay and his parents. His family might enjoy camping trips and soccer matches, instead of weekend courses at the local junior college and after-school test prep sessions. Ms. Jones’ title as Dean of Admissions may be ended, but her efforts in shaping national college admissions need to continue.

Admissions Process Will Retain High Standards

I would like to add my appreciation to the many voices which have expressed admiration for the way in which Marilee conducted her role as Dean of Admissions over the past decade. Not only did she direct and inspire the MIT admissions staff to perform at an exceptional level, but she took the lead in focusing discussion in the wider community about the pressures that many high school seniors face as they decide how to pursue the next stage of their education. These issues which Marilee felt so strongly about are an essential part of the debate about the evolving role of higher education which must continue.

Marilee’s departure, which was clearly necessary and appropriate to maintain the reputation and integrity of MIT and its admissions process, in no way affects the conduct of the MIT admissions process itself, or the results of that process this year or in past years. I have participated directly in this process over the past three years as chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid (CUAFA), which has oversight and policy-setting responsibility for admissions. There is no question that the process is indeed extremely rigorous and applied with the highest possible standards of integrity. The quality, effectiveness and dedication of the staff of the MIT admissions office is remarkable, and it is through this staff that we will continue to ensure excellence in the admissions process.

It is essential that we retain these attributes as we review the existing MIT admissions process and begin the vital process of selecting a new leader of the admissions process at MIT. CUAFA will be heavily involved in the next steps to make sure that we have a worthy successor to Marilee Jones at the same time retaining the many strengths of the existing admissions process that Marilee Jones helped to create.

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Abortion Cartoon Justified and Necessary

This letter is in response to Micah J Green G’s claim that the Tech’s decision to publish a cartoon featuring a coat-hanger was “irresponsible.” In my opinion, such a cartoon is not only justified but necessary in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision, which disregards common medical practice in order to impose a moral system that attacks women’s rights. What Green seemed to ignore was that the main reason this ruling is so contentious is that it dismisses medical testimony that this procedure is necessary in a few but certain cases in order to save a woman’s life. Furthermore, Justice Kennedy cited a woman’s lack of understanding about her decision as rationale for over-riding years of court precedent. I am truly sorry the Supreme Court does not have more respect for the abilities of women to make decisions about their bodies and about a potentially life-saving medical procedure. In making this ruling, the five male justices have set back a woman’s right to choose, and her personal safety, by decades.

Kyrstin L. Fornace ’09

Institute Must Clarify Flier Policy

I think that Dean for Student Life Larry Benedict does not go far enough in stating that policies regarding student speech at MIT should be “clarified” and publicized. Those policies should be expanded to allow students to advocate change at the Institute or to promote other political views, as Kayvan Zainabadi G was doing last week, without seeking prior approval from the Institute.

It is reasonable for MIT to restrict commercial or promotional communication to certain venues, and to prohibit physically disruptive speech, such as a student using a megaphone outside a classroom. But if Dean Benedict concludes, after his review of the current policy, that students need to seek and receive permission from the Student Activities Office before expressing themselves on campus, I think he ought to explain why the mechanisms governing speech in our society — an open marketplace of ideas, along with legal accountability for defamation — are not workable at our university.

I hope that the Institute community would receive such an explanation with due skepticism.

Insititute Policy a Threat to Free Speech

MIT’s distribution “policy” is disturbing, but not surprising. MIT administrators have a long history of instituting arbitrary policies to curb student activity that they do not like. I have had some small experience with arbitrary MIT policy “implementation,” in one case MIT housing administrators instructed me to take down an Israeli flag. A whole phalanx of MIT administrators backpedaled through a litany of faux excuses ranging from being a fire hazard to being a structural modification to the building. The true reason: someone in Sidney-Pacific found it offensive.

In this case, the Campus Police say that students cannot pass out information sheets in MIT facilities without permission. MIT students and student groups pass out information all of the time, information that is not cleared through the CAC or the CPs. It would not be inconstant if the administration’s response to this “ambiguous policy” is to silence all student groups, or establishing an appropriate 1984 department to oversee student fliers. If students cannot pass out fliers, perhaps they should not be able to talk to each other on Institute property without the appropriate permission, which the CAC and SAO can review on an individual basis. The MIT community needs to take decisive action to eliminate ambiguity from the minds of administrators: the rights of MIT students and faculty to free speech must be protected on campus. Further, MIT’s traditions of innovation, irreverence, and hacking are not served by silencing, threatening, or arresting members of the MIT community whose words, actions, or messages may be inconsistent with a particular administrator’s point of view.

Ignore “Ignore Hate Week”

Every spring, Palestine@MIT, the Arab Students’ Organization, and the Muslim Students’ Association organize a week-long campaign to raise awareness on issues related to the Palestinian Question. Palestine Awareness Week (PAW) brings to light issues that are rarely discussed by mainstream media in the United States. By promoting alternative views on the issue, we hope to provide an on-campus venue for open dialogue. In previous years, PAW has been successful in providing educational content as well as lively debate: lectures and movie screenings are typically followed by discussions and interviews in which a wide range of students (including both Arabs and Israelis) and community members participate.

Unfortunately, this year PAW is confronted with something new and malicious. Over the past few days, fliers have been posted on the bulletin boards of the Infinite Corridor and the Student Center. These fliers read “MIT Ignore Terrorism Week” or “MIT Ignore Hate Week,” and feature pictures of suicide bombers. The posters were hung across campus in concert with the beginning of PAW, just prior to the Monday education and dialogue event, “Israel’s Internal Apartheid: The Case of the Palestinian Citizens.”

These defamatory fliers have no place at MIT. We expect students and community-members to engage in civilized, intellectual discourse and not in tasteless name-calling. In addition to being defamatory and offensive, those responsible for the posters also lack understanding of the very issues PAW seeks to tackle. The main objective of PAW is to educate. This simply entails the presentation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in context — as the struggle of millions of Palestinians for racial equality, economic traction, and national identity. We hope that these basic human rights are secure in the minds and hearts of the MIT community despite the careless assertions of a few hate-filled members of the community.

Some of PAW’s events are controversial, filling in the enormous blanks left by American reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and often contradicting claims advanced by the Israeli government. However, holding contradictory views is neither dangerous nor extreme—quite the opposite: PAW demonstrates a commitment to productive and soft-spoken educational discourse. By connecting the MIT community with a broad selection of experts, citizens, and educational media, PAW demonstrates the situation on the ground in Israel and Palestine with decorum befitting an educational offering of this nature.

Associating terrorism with the goals of PAW is a serious and appalling suggestion that offends the organizers, as well as supporters of justice and human rights in Palestine. The organizers of PAW hope that these posters offend the sensibilities of the MIT community in general. Finally, we realize that the views expressed in these fliers are those of a very small minority. This response will hopefully serve to reassert the identity of PAW for the vast majority of the community approaching the Palestinian Question in good faith, especially those in the community who may not have been familiar with the goals of PAW. We, the organizers of PAW, hope you will join us in moving forward with our efforts this PAW and in years to come.

Iman Kandil ’09

Hazem M. Zureiqat G

Nour J. Abdul-Razzak ’09

PAW Planning Committee