MIT Responds to Students; MBTA Drops Federal Case

This occasional feature will follow up on news stories long past their prime. In this edition: how MIT fired, and un-fired, a women’s support administrator; and whatever happened to that MBTA lawsuit?

MBTA surrenders in Subway vs. Students?

A lawsuit against MIT students filed by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority was dropped in October.

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority sued three MIT students in August and sought to quash research apparently showing how anyone could get free T fare by copying an existing CharlieTicket or by making their own.

A gag order granted in early August kept the students from presenting their research at the summer’s DEF CON hacker convention in Las Vegas. But the gag order was dissolved on Aug. 19, with the judge saying that the MBTA was unlikely to succeed on a claim that the research violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The case was dismissed by the MBTA on Oct. 7, with prejudice and without costs.

Women’s support administrator’s job secure

After deciding to fire an MIT administrator in charge of supporting women on campus, MIT reversed its decision within weeks. She was un-fired and reassigned to another department within the Institute.

In mid-April, MIT told Lynn A. Roberson, formerly Coordinator of Programs and Support for Women Students in Student Support Services, that it could no longer afford her services and would be firing her, according to an e-mail she sent to freshman women. Following student complaints, the decision was reversed by the end of April, with Roberson taking on a new job as associate director for student activities in the Student Activities Office.

According to Roberson’s April 18 e-mail, “MIT will be terminating my position of Coordinator of Programs and Support for Women Students as of the end of June 2008, and I will be laid off.”

She explained the layoff as a problem of resources: the Department of Student Life told her that they needed to hire a full-time crisis support specialist, and that they could not also support her positions because of funding and headcount restrictions. “Perhaps there will be some distribution of my programs to other staff at the institute, but having this kind of point-person for women students will cease, as it is now,” she wrote.

“I also am feeling my own deep personal loss and grief, given the 22 years I have been a support to all you wonderful women students! … Ever the optimist, I do wonder if a miracle can happen or something can be done to help avert this sad situation and be of benefit to everyone. But please do know that whatever happens, I will remain a support to you in any way I can, now and in the future,” she wrote.

Members of women’s student groups like the Society for Women Engineers told MIT that they wanted Roberson to keep her job, and someone must have made a convincing case, because by the end of April, it appeared that her place at MIT was secure. Roberson moved from Student Support Services to Student Activities over the summer.

In mid-May, she sent a letter to freshman women thanking them for their support. “Although I do not know what many of you may have been doing behind the scenes, whatever you thought, wished, voiced or did, you have been heard, and it has created enormous benefit for all of us. … You helped move everyone forward and opened further the pathways for women students at MIT … Thank you for believing in a greater vision for yourselves and for all the women students at MIT!,” she wrote.

Roberson declined to comment to The Tech on May 1.

Senior Associate Dean for Students Barbara A. Baker wrote on May 8 to a Tech reporter: “I am not sure what you are asking about. I wonder if you may have been misinformed, and while I am not able to comment in detail about personnel matters, I can say that Lynn’s work has been and will continue to be part of a network of resources for women students and she continues to work at MIT on behalf of women students.”

“MIT is fully committed to support all of our women students,” Baker wrote.