Reading Room Chairs Still Missing; Criminal Charges May Be Filed

Five of the 46 chairs stolen from the Student Center Reading Room have been returned, and two more have disappeared, during an “amnesty” period declared by the Campus Activities Complex. The CAC has bought replacements and plans to implement a security system to keep more chairs from disappearing.

CAC director Phillip J. Walsh said that he has received confidential tips that the expensive, durable Steelcase chairs are “within the campus community.” The CAC has forwarded the tips to the Campus Police, who are now investigating the thefts.

Marlena T. Martinez, assistant director for fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups in the FSILG office, said in a Jan. 31 e-mail to IFC presidents that tipsters had located stolen at chairs “one or more MIT fraternities.” She said that her office “can ensure amnesty for those involved if the return of those chairs is coordinated … by February 5th, 2008.”

Martinez’s message threatened that chair thieves might face legal or disciplinary action if caught: “After this date MIT will proceed with an investigation of all tips on the whereabouts of the chairs, and if the search results in the property being located, may lead to criminal and/or disciplinary charges.”

In 1991, MIT expelled two seniors who stole $70,000 of Institute-owned computer equipment and installed it in their Phi Gamma Delta house. In 2001, MIT considered disciplinary action against four Delta Tau Delta brothers who allegedly stole 27 road signs from Vermont.

An e-mail sent by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship Chaplain Kevin Ford on Feb. 7, 2008 and forwarded to the next-forum mailing list exhorted people whose chairs were in offices and dormitories to return the chairs. The e-mail also noted that, after the amnesty date, “all missing chairs will be pursued as felony thefts.”

Five chairs returned before the Feb. 5 deadline all appeared near the fifth floor freight elevator, said Walsh. Three wet chairs were found on Feb. 1, a rainy Friday, suggesting the chairs had travelled, said Walsh. Two more chairs appeared over the next weekend and the following Monday afternoon, Feb. 4, added Walsh. The chairs were in good shape, though Walsh said that “one had a bit of paint on it.”

The CAC had held off on ordering replacement chairs in the hopes that more would be returned, but it has recently ordered replacements, Walsh said. 43 chairs are still missing, so at a replacement cost of $437.25, replacements will cost $18,801.75.

The Campus Police are now investigating the case based on information the CAC received. Detective Willard J. Boulter III, who is leading the investigation, was out of the office yesterday and unavailable to comment on the case.

Walsh said that the CAC was working on getting a “scanning, tamper-proof security system” set up by the time the replacement chairs arrive. CAC Assistant Director Jennifer B. Smith previously estimated the cost of one possible security system at $10,000.

“It’s unfortunate that the [thieves] didn’t respect something that was for the community to use,” Walsh said.