The Institute in National, Local News
CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: An item in the The Tech’s 2007 Year in Review article “The Institute in National, Local News,” about the death of Daniel J. Barclay ’07, misrepresented Susan L. Kayton ’78, Barclay’s mother. Kayton does not allege that Barclay’s death could have been avoided had MIT allowed her access to Barclay’s room and property. Because of an editing error, the article also incorrectly identified Kayton as a member of the class of 1950.
When MIT made national and local headlines in 2007, it was largely because of one of many controversies, scandals, and bizarre incidents that may have put a dent in MIT’s reputation. The year saw clashes with the administration and lawsuits, a professor on a hunger strike alleging racism had affected his tenure denial, an admissions dean resigning because she had lied on her resume many years ago, a sodium explosion in the Charles River with MIT widely considered the cause, a sophomore arrested for wearing a harmless LED device to Logan Airport, and a lawsuit filed against the Stata Center’s architect.
Sodium burns boat workers
On Thursday, Sept. 6, five volunteers for the Charles River Cleanup Boat were injured by chemical and thermal burns caused by a piece of elemental sodium, which they placed in a bin of wet debris where it caught fire and exploded.
Local news source WBZ-TV news quickly pointed the finger at the annual East Campus sodium drop held during Residence Exploration, a full week before the incident. David Kaplar, managing editor of WBZ-TV news, said that the station linked the two events after WBZ-TV found out that sodium was responsible. “[We did a] Web search and put two-and-two together,” Kaplar said to The Tech in September.
However, it quickly became doubtful that the East Campus drop was responsible, as no witnesses of the event reported any pieces of sodium skidding towards the Boston-side bank of the Charles River. It is unlikely that highly reactive sodium would last an entire week between the events, or that the metal could have made its way to the Boston shore from the middle of the Harvard Bridge, where the sodium was dropped this fall.
But other campus groups have also been known to drop sodium and potassium into the Charles River — in particular, Tau Epsilon Phi likely held a sodium drop in the days before the explosion. Although the Massachusetts State Police investigation proved inconclusive and no disciplinary action was taken, MIT donated $6,000 to the Charles River Cleanup Boat to cover the damages incurred. MIT also contributed to the fund that supports the cleanup boat in 2004 and 2006.
Sophomore arrested at Logan Airport
The sodium explosion incident had hardly cleared up when, a mere two weeks later on Sept. 21, Simpson was arrested at Logan International Airport by state troopers with MP5 machine guns and charged with possession of a hoax device.
Simpson, who was meeting her boyfriend arriving from California, was wearing a circuit board with LEDs arranged in the shape of a star. The circuit board unnerved an information desk worker, who called the police. The police noted that Simpson was found carrying five to six ounces of Play-Doh. Simpson’s defense attorney said that the Play-Doh, in the shape of a rose, was a gift for her boyfriend.
Later that day, MIT released a press release which controversially called Simpson’s actions “reckless.” Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 said the Institute had not talked to Simpson before releasing the statement. The statement was protested a week later by a group of students in front of Walker Memorial.
The discussion at the protest was focused on Simpson’s arrest, but protestors also talked about the actions taken by the administration in response to the sodium fire and the felony charges filed against hackers who had been caught exploring in the Faculty Club.
At the student protest, Biyeun M. Bucyk ’10 said that MIT was “bending over to media” and “issued a comment that was taken as criticism when [Simpson] really didn’t do anything wrong.” Clay told The Tech that he thought “reckless” was the right word based to use based on what the administration knew at the time. But Clay also said that the media’s portrayal of Simpson as a hoax bomber was “unfair and unfortunate,” as Simpson “is not a malicious person.”
The faculty also expressed concern about MIT’s remarks. At the Dec. 19 faculty meeting, attended by over 200, a motion asked MIT to limit its public statements about community members facing criminal investigations. The motion was defeated, though Professor Patrick H. Winston, a co-sponsor of the motion, said later that he felt he had made his point and that, in a way, “the statement was heard.”
MIT’s interpretation of privacy act comes under fire
Susan L. Kayton ’50 faced a sobering reason to struggle against the MIT administration: the death of her son Daniel J. Barclay ’07, who was declared a missing person on April 13 and was found dead on a beach in Cape Cod Bay on April 19.
According to The Wall Street Journal, despite Barclay having first been reported as missing by his friends on April 8, MIT denied Kayton access to Barclay’s dormitory room and his Athena files, citing the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Undeterred by the administration, Kayton took a red-eye flight to MIT, and broke into her son’s room with the help of some of Barclay’s friends.
“Because of all these privacy laws … we have to get court orders,” Kayton said to The Tech in April. “The law has gone too far” in regards to missing persons cases.
Kayton alleges that Barclay’s death could have been avoided had MIT allowed her access to Barclay’s room and property. Barclay’s death was ruled a suicide, but Kayton and her husband are working to appeal the ruling, the WSJ reports.
Stabbing hits Next House residents close to home
The community received another shocking piece of news on Oct. 23, when then-Wellesley College junior Anna L. Tang allegedly stabbed her ex-boyfriend Wolfe B. Styke ’10 seven times in his room at Next House.
The event prompted a campus-wide examination of current dormitory security policies because Tang had obtained a key to Stykes’ room through a night watchman on duty at Next House. According to the Cambridge Police report, the night watchman said he had given Tang a key because he didn’t know the two were no longer romantically involved.
After these facts came to light, President Susan Hockfield charged Chancellor Phillip Clay with creating a task force to look at dorm security. Although that task force has been created, the only visible result so far is that desk workers (and, in Bexley Hall, graduate resident tutors) will no longer let dormitory residents into their rooms — students who are locked out should now call x3-1500 instead.
Tang, arrested at the crime scene, was detained until Nov. 7 and was held without bail until Jan. 9. She was released on $10,000 bail and ordered to be kept under house arrest. She is no longer a Wellesley student.
MIT falls to 7th In U.S. News rankings
MIT’s fall from fourth to seventh place in the U.S. News and World Report college ranking was driven in part by changes in how MIT defines and computes class sizes and by corrections in how MIT reports its entering class’s SAT scores. The Wall Street Journal picked up the story.
Previously, MIT did not report certain standardized-test scores from some students, such as the SAT verbal score for international admits who also took the Test of English as a Foreign Language or the less favorable scores of students who took both the SAT and ACT. “If we didn’t use a student’s score … we didn’t report it,” Interim Director of Admissions Stuart Schmill ’86 said in September. “This year we did.”
Additionally, class size reports vary from year to year as multiple sections of the same class can be interpreted to mean either distinct classrooms or a single class. “The language is muddy,” Director of Institutional Research Lydia S. Snover said in September. “We’ve been having these debates on and off over what is a class.”
For other U.S. News rankings, MIT remained at the top of undergraduate engineering schools, where it has been for the past six years. The departments of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Mechanical Engineering were ranked first as well.
Institute sues Stata architect
On Oct. 31, MIT filed a lawsuit against Frank O. Gehry, the Stata Center’s architect, and Skanska USA Building Inc., the construction company that built the $300 million building. The suit alleged that negligent design and construction had caused architectural problems like poor draining, mold growth, leaks, and ice sliding from the roof. It said that the outdoor amphitheater needed $1.5 million in repairs.
Although the contractual issues were largely ones of minor negligence and liability, the news also relit a public debate over whether Gehry’s twisted metal-and-glass design for the Stata Center reflects inspired brilliance or an expensive embarrassment.
Former Boston University President John Silber, an outspoken critic of the Stata Center, said to the Boston Globe that Gehry “thinks of himself as an artist, as a sculptor. But the trouble is you don’t live in a sculpture and users have to live in this building.”
But MIT Robotics Professor Rodney Brooks disagreed. He said in an e-mail to The Tech that he and other MIT faculty had worked closely with Gehry during the design and construction of the Stata Center, and that he was happy working in the building.
The suit continues in the Suffolk County Superior Court.