The Year in Tech Editorials

Incorporating perspectives built upon institutional memory and the paper’s untouched archives, The Tech’s editorial board weighed in on several matters of importance to the MIT community this past year. Below find editorials on what we consider to be some of the year’s most important topics.

Sherley’s Racism Claims Lack Evidence — Feb. 16, 2007

James L. Sherley wants us to believe that MIT is racist, and that it is because of this institutional racism that he was denied tenure. Unfortunately, his numerous lengthy public statements have supplied no evidence to support his claims. …

Sherley’s numerous public statements have provided detailed descriptions of improprieties in others’ conduct towards him and his tenure review — from the Institute, the Biological Engineering department, and particular members of the faculty and administration.

If his allegations of conflicts of interest, personal vendettas, and misleading public statements are indeed true, they would certainly constitute a breakdown in the tenure process, and would warrant some form of action to safeguard against future problems.

However, even if one were to accept every single one of Sherley’s allegations at face value, there would still be no evidence of racism. …

MIT is, at its heart, a school built on the principles of science and engineering. We search for evidence, use the tools of logic, and are not in the habit of accepting rumors and allegations as truth. …

For its part, MIT owes Sherley a true and open response to all of his allegations, and must actively engage the faculty as a whole with regards to how to correct those broken components of its tenure process.

Equally important, if Sherley or his supporters fail to provide any concrete evidence of racism, the Institute owes it to our entire community not to follow the path of appeasement.

Going Too Far — Feb. 23, 2007

For the MIT police to charge three MIT students who were found exploring after hours indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of their mission: to provide a police presence that is suitable for our community. …

If convicted, the students facing charges would potentially suffer a lifetime of closed doors, social stigmas, job refusals, and even the loss of voting rights in some states.

The MIT administration claims to value our hacking culture — celebrations of past hacks are proudly displayed within our halls, along our lobbies, and in our museum. Campus tour guides are directed to highlight past hacks, and new hacks are routinely featured on the MIT homepage. Given all of this, how can the administration possibly justify letting the MIT police ruin three students’ lives for doing exactly what it usually glorifies? …

The Tech calls upon the MIT Police and the administration to quickly take all steps necessary for charges to be dropped against the three students. The Tech also calls on the administration to publicly reaffirm its commitment to deal with such situations through internal reviews, and to use community service as the standard for punishment. Finally, the administration must work with students to review and clarify the role of our campus police.

Jones’ Resignation Right For MIT — May 4, 2007

MIT made the right decision in asking Marilee Jones to resign. If our hiring process is not reliable, how can we defend our integrity in other areas, like research? … All of MIT should be held to the same standard for honesty in order to maintain credibility.

Although Jones’ effectiveness in running the Admissions Office illustrates that the degrees in question were not necessary for even her high-level position of dean, it does not mean that such qualifications are not important during hiring. … It may be unreasonable to expect the Institute to thoroughly check the background of all new employees at all levels. But it is the Institute’s responsibility to find a practical solution so that this kind of situation does not arise again.

RBA Limits Freshman Choice, August 28, 2007

Dormitories which offer Residence-Based Advising should give freshmen a chance to get out — or get in — during Orientation. The Housing Readjustment Lottery … should not exclude McCormick Hall and Next House. …

Under the current system, there is no way for freshmen to “try out” these RBA dormitories. Potential residents are doubtless deterred by the fact that they will not be able to move if they find they are happier elsewhere. Thus, it is likely that fewer people apply to RBA dormitories, and those dormitories lose out on the chance for valuable community members who prefer to pick a residence after arriving at MIT. … The current system discourages choice and yields no real benefit.

Choice is a bedrock principle of housing at MIT; our unique dormitories and their residents set the Institute apart from many other universities. It is in everyone’s best interest to give students more choice.

Why We Can’t Tell You to J**n The Tech — Aug. 29, 2007

The ASA should eliminate its complex and unnecessary recruitment rules. In addition, the ASA should advocate for the movement of the Activities Midway to earlier in the week, possibly by rotating the major daytime events of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Finally, the ASA should encourage student groups to use more of its early returns to help the new students of MIT explore more of their extracurricular interests before they get mired in class work. The purpose of the ASA is to foster the well being of student groups, not to strangle them in needless red tape. …

In the last seven years, the format of Orientation has changed radically, but the ASA recruiting rules have failed to keep up. …

More fundamentally, the ASA recruitment regulations (http://tech.mit.edu/V127/N33/ASA-Recruitment_Rules_2006.pdf) are unnecessary, at least in their current form. What used to be an informal agreement to use common sense not to overwhelm the freshmen has devolved into today’s complex set of regulations, imposing a fraternity-rush-style ban on early advertising and events.

Sodium Doesn’t Just Fall From the Sky — Sept. 18, 2007

Who should be accountable for the apparent accident that led to five people being burned by sodium on Thursday, Sept. 6? If MIT community members left sodium metal next to the Charles River, they should claim responsibility for their actions. If no responsible party can be found, the Institute should still help the people who have been hurt. …

Most students who organize large-scale events with potential hazards, like Sodium Drop and Orange Tours, exercise extreme caution; and the annual student-run Sodium Drop has occurred for years without causing any injuries. MIT officials and police have in the past implicitly endorsed the annual Sodium Drop by turning a blind eye to it. The Tech, Wikipedia, and MIT’s own Admissions blogs have mentioned the event for years. Institute attempts to ban this tradition would not measurably improve safety. …

If the people responsible for the sodium fire cannot be identified, MIT should err on the side of taking too much blame and should volunteer to help the burn victims from the Charles River Cleanup Boat volunteers and emergency responders. The Institute, which has donated to the Cleanup Boat effort in all four years of that organization’s existence, should cover the costs of medical treatment and pay to make the boat seaworthy again.

Support Our Students — Sept. 25, 2007

Star A. Simpson ’10 made an honest mistake when she wore a glowing circuit board to Logan International Airport. State police responded reasonably to a perceived threat, and they quickly determined that Simpson’s attire posed no threat at all. She was cooperative, and they were professional.

It should have ended there.

But then a police representative told an eager crowd of reporters that “thankfully,” Simpson had cooperated and “ended up in a cell as opposed to the morgue.” The Suffolk County district attorney pressed charges of possessing a hoax device. National news reports displayed a recklessly sensationalistic disregard for the truth by using phrases like “fake bomb strapped to her chest.” MIT — which should be acting to help its student — was curiously quiet, releasing only a statement that “[a]s reported to us by the authorities, Simpson’s actions were reckless and understandably created alarm at the airport.”

Instead, the Institute should make the facts of the case clear — that Simpson and the device were harmless — and the district attorney’s office should drop the charges against Simpson. …

By remaining silent and unsupportive, MIT risks losing the good will (and the dollars) of its technically inclined alumni and future alumni. Worse, if MIT gains a reputation for prioritizing its image over its students’ well-being, talented prospective students will be turned off by the Institute.