COD Should Face Tough Questions

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: Because of a typographical error, the April 15 editorial “COD Should Face Tough Questions” misstated the middle initial of the Committee on Discipline’s former chair. He is George E. Apostolakis, not George J. Apostolakis.

Outrage over a threatening e-mail sent by Artem Krasnoslobodtsev (Kraus) G, in which he called members of the Sloan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community “fucking fags,” is well deserved.

But the MIT community should be more concerned about a systemic problem — the secretive and unfair organization of the Committee on Discipline, which in this case seems to have done little to censure Kraus.

Why would the committee not suspend a management student whose actions would, as Sloan LGBT officer Tom Arnet G said, never be tolerated in a Fortune 500 company?

Comparing what is known about this case with prior COD actions reveals an inexplicable inconsistency. By concealing information about its rulings, the committee damages the MIT community’s trust. Worse, by denying students effective representation during trials, the committee violates the intellectual principles that are the bedrock of the Institute.

The COD’s former chair, George J. Apostolakis, will deliver a report on the COD to the faculty at tomorrow’s faculty meeting. We hope that faculty will consider these issues carefully as they receive Apostolakis’s report.

The present case seems inconsistent with a prior ruling. In 2000, Alpha Tau Omega resident Burns Schilling ’02 received a three-semester suspension after writing in an e-mail to another student, “You are a faggot. I hate faggots. I wish they would string all of you up on barb wire fences in Wyoming.”

It is unclear how the circumstances of that case differ from the present. In December 2007, Kraus responded to a party invitation sent by members of the Sloan LGBT Club to many Sloan School of Management students. He wrote in part: “LISTEN TO ME: If you fucking fags send me something like that once again or contact me in any other way, I swear you won’t be able to study at Sloan for some time because you will spend it at resuscitation department.”

Kraus’s sanction remains unknown, but he continues to attend classes, including one subject taken by a student threatened by his e-mail. Kraus has declined to comment, and COD chair Sheila E. Widnall ’60 categorically refuses to comment on COD cases.

How does Kraus’s case differ from Schilling’s? Did MIT forget about this prior case involving anti-homosexual e-mails? Lacking information, we can only trust that the COD did the right thing by suspending Schilling and not suspending Kraus.

One thing we can trust that the COD is getting wrong is representation. At present, students facing a hearing must speak on their own behalf. If the COD is to be an effective judicial body, it should allow students adequate representation.

An advisor may accompany a student to a COD hearing. But the committee’s chair, Widnall, told The Tech in an interview that the advisor may not make a statement. Over the years, as students have sought those who can represent them well, a curious list of restrictions have emerged. Advisors may no longer be family members, attorneys (despite the fact that the committee’s proceedings can be used against a student in court), or members of the media, and they must come from the MIT community.

The current system is inherently unfair; a student’s charisma should not affect culpability for his misdeeds. Academic demands or personal problems may keep students from preparing an adequate defense. Rhetorically superior students could extract lesser punishments from the COD, whose members are, after all, human. Considerations like these are exactly why real judicial processes allow real representation.

Other modern extrajudicial bodies, such as military courts-martial, have abandoned the anachronistic practice of self-representation. MIT teaches meritocracy: the best idea should win. Students should be allowed to find the best possible way to represent their views during a potentially life-changing hearing.

These conditions are so onerous that in 2000, Schilling retained an attorney who advised him not to attend his hearing; the COD suspended him in his absence.

We do not doubt that those who sit on the Committee on Discipline work hard to rule fairly, to prudently consider all aspects of a case, and to carefully consider how their actions affect the MIT community. We do not doubt that COD members do their jobs well, nor are we accusing them of any malfeasance. But good intentions and wisdom cannot fix broken rules that lead to enigmatic rulings and prevent fair representation.

How can MIT even begin to discuss harassing speech on campus, while its own judicial body is fundamentally flawed?