Chancellor Clay’s E-Mail to Community Warns About Irresponsible Hacks, Piracy

In an e-mail sent to the student body on Sept. 25, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 reminded students to hack responsibly and to stop downloading copyrighted works. An almost identical e-mail was sent last October.

The letter was meant to remind potential hackers that the tradition should not be a pretext for “doing whatever you like,” Clay said. No specific incident prompted the letter, Clay said.

In the letter, Clay reminded hackers to abide by the “hacking code of ethics,” which requires hackers to take responsibility for their actions and not create public hazards. “We have to re-embrace the true hacking tradition,” Clay wrote.

On Sept. 29, protesters hacked the Stata Center cafeteria, covering the hacks on display with black tarp. Next to the water fountain, police car, and cow, large mock violation notices were hung, detailing how the displays violated Clay’s “hacking code of ethics.”

Clay’s letter also asked students to maintain their integrity both inside and outside of the classroom by avoiding plagiarism and illegal downloading. Clay said another message involving illegal downloading of music and movies is forthcoming.

Clay said the e-mail does not mark any changes in MIT policy, which is outlined in the Mind and Hand guidebook. But with the arrival of over 2,000 new students on campus, “the message has to be reinforced” continually, Clay said.

This e-mail is simply “[an] attempt to balance our traditions with excess,” Clay said.

In comparison to last year’s letter, this year’s letter sharpens some points and softens others. The first letter mentioned that hacks should not bring public notoriety to hackers or MIT. The second letter removes all mention of “notoriety” and includes language about preserving the “privacy and personal dignity of individuals.”

Whereas the previous letter said that showering “looks like” a form of hazing, the new letter says showering “constitutes” hazing. The new letter also adds language explicitly mentioning MIT’s “responsibility to limit access to certain campus locations.”

Undergraduate Association President Noah S. Jessop ’09 said the new letter was relevant, if repetitive.

“All the points were important to reiterate particularly to new members of the community, but much of the message was unfortunately obfuscated by students’ fixation on the minute differences from last year’s letter,” Jessop said.