The State of Democracy at MIT
A Call to Action
As I sit here writing in the student center, I gaze upon Kresge Auditorium — the voting place of Ward 2, Precinct 2 in the City of Cambridge. Today, many citizens will come to this place to cast their ballots in national, state, and local races — to elect whom they will entrust with the sacred duty to represent the constituency in the halls of government. It’s ironic though, that we will exercise our greatest civic duty and most sacred right as Americans on the very grounds of an institution that runs itself in such an autocratic fashion.
Elections are designed to ensure accountability in the system. No elected official would in their right mind consider making a decision without first soliciting input from or gauging the feelings of their constituents. Unfortunately, MIT administrators are not elected and as such have essentially free reign to do whatever they want to reshape the Institute without student input or fear of repercussions. For the administration, their greatest fear isn’t that the students are unhappy — it’s that a negative article about MIT will run in the Boston Globe.
While the recent Globe article about cats sure was nice, it’s superficial compared to the real state of affairs on campus. Time and time again, student interests have been cast aside. Whenever a problem pops up on campus, the administration employs the oldest trick in the book — create a commission or taskforce to discuss the issue. Nothing makes a problem go away easier than creating another bureaucratic institution with no real authority to accomplish anything and having it meet a few times over the course of several months until student interest dies down. This tactic simply sweeps the problem under the rug, hopefully never to be seen again.
I simply find it shocking that of all the talks President Hockfield has given on improving candid input and diversity at MIT, both are severely lacking on the Academic Council, the chief policymaking board of the institution. Where are the students? Diversity manifests itself in many ways; however, this injustice appears to be one that the administration is quite all right with overlooking.
The student body should have the right to elect a student to represent their interests on the Academic Council. Student representation in MIT governance can only have a positive effect. It will serve to elevate the debate as more perspectives and points of view are considered when making major decisions. In addition to being able to have legitimate input on policy matters, student members of the Academic Council will be able to ensure accountability and transparency in Institute affairs.
Only then can we work to reform the current system to ensure that situations such as the botched evictions of residents of Green Hall and the mishandling of the Star Simpson case do not happen again. As many of you remember from the recent Lobby 7 sit-in, the ‘Campaign for Students’ is a new, grassroots effort to try to instill a greater sense of communication and transparency between student and administrator in the decisions that will affect our community. What did the administration do? It created the “Taskforce for Student Engagement” to meet several times to address the issue — what an innovative solution!
As it goes in national politics, the only way to incite constructive change is to make sure that our voices are heard. I urge all of you to contact President Hockfield, Chancellor Clay, and Dean Colombo to voice your opinions on the state of administration-student relations at the Institute and to demand student representation on the Academic Council.
President Susan J. Hockfield
Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75
Dean for Student Life Costantino Colombo