Letters to the Editor

Editor’s note: These letters were addressed to MIT President Susan Hockfield and sent to The Tech.

I was one of the 108 attendees at the Phi Beta Epsilon 120th Reunion last weekend, and I learned the facts about the process of sanctioning PBE. The process was shockingly flawed and I respectfully request that you order it to be reconsidered and the verdict to be annulled.

In 1973 I came to PBE as a freshman from North Carolina, from a rural school where there was not even a calculus course to prepare me for the rigors of MIT mathematics and physics. My brothers at PBE gave me a home environment that uplifted me and they helped me to meet the challenges of mindboggling MIT courses.

I can also speak to the false charges of hazing at PBE: I was bullied mercilessly as a school boy and I know hazing. There was no hazing at PBE. For 120 years PBE has been a leading fraternity with higher ideals than any other, and has been distinguished by such academic excellence that I am astonished that you could believe PBE housed a detrimental environment for student achievement. Even a casual look at PBE’s achievements belies that misconception. Phi Betes like Reed Weedon ’41 and Peter Cooper ’70 serve MIT fundraising and campus improvement — why would they do that if they had suffered at PBE?

Because of brothers who remain dear to me 33 years after they enabled me to graduate with my BS in physics, I went on to earn a Ph. D. in Physics from UNC Chapel Hill, and get a career job with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center where I work today. I also have taught physical science as a faculty member at the University of Maryland University College.

In these professional activities I often have the chance to recommend MIT to students, and have done so in the past. I cannot continue to do so after this unjustified injury to PBE, to which I owe my success at surviving MIT.

Student self-governance is a noble ideal, but the IFC JudComm hearings were ambushes using stolen (doctored?) misinterpreted document, and led by a committee member who was an angry, rejected applicant for PBE membership. Leadership of the sanctioning process by a “PBE reject” is prima facie reason to discredit the impartiality of the verdict. The 10-year expulsion that JudComm recommended was so out of proportion that even approving MIT officials felt compelled to reduce it to a 4-year suspension. But this is not justified by a grudge-tainted IFC verdict, and should not stand.

I will suspend donating any funds or services to MIT because of this gross injustice. I will be joining our hundreds of alumni and active members, led by our PBE Corporation President Steve Carhart, in spreading the truth about this incident, which is, in fact, a case of bullying of PBE by the IFC JudComm. September is National Bullying Awareness month, ironically, and those of us who recognize bullying must stand up against it.

This case is like the unwarranted firing of USDA employee Shirley Sherrod back in July because her comments about overcoming racism were taken out of context and used against her in the media. The MIT deans who participated and approved the rush to judgement against PBE are just another example of political correctness out of control, like the media personalities who piled on and called for Ms Sherrod’s unjustified dismissal. Again innocent people have been injured and their rights to fair treatment trampled.

I respectfully ask that you review this case in the proper context of PBE’s exemplary record of achievements and service to MIT, and correct the gross overreaction that was inflicted by MIT’s bureaucracy in its rush to judgement. I have never seen anything like this outrageous stumble by MIT’s administration, and it completely transformed my view of MIT’s fitness as an organization with a clear understanding of how to uplift and educate its students. I ask that you restore my faith in MIT by reviewing the IFC’s flawed, conflict-of-interest tainted decision to sanction Phi Beta Epsilon, and withdraw the unjustified suspension.

Bullies disguised as student government must not prevail.

—David Allen Batchelor ’77

Tech should have done more reporting

I am surprised by the tepid reporting in The Tech regarding the IFC JudComm-ordered 10-year expulsion of PBE. Where is the investigative journalism? Where is the digging behind the headlines? In days gone by, The Tech would have blown a juicy story like this wide open. Below are a few questions to ponder, if you are at a loss.

- Can the IFC confirm that no one was hurt or endangered, physically or mentally, at PBE, as stated by Adam Doroski of PBE?

- Was PBE even accused of an infraction of the rules? If so, by whom and on what grounds?

- If the JudComm-ordered 10-year expulsion was justified, why did the MIT administration reduce it to a 4-year suspension?

- How do these charges, supporting evidence, punishments and timing compare to other serious fraternity matters that have come before the JudComm?

- Which Dean was at the September 6 hearing when the IFC JudComm voted to expel PBE? Is the presence of a Dean always required? What if they are not present?

- How is it decided which JudComm members have voting privileges in a given case?

- Are JudComm members with conflicts of interest required to recuse themselves?

If The Tech doesn’t investigate these issues, we might as well just read the MIT News. I expect The Tech to practice actual journalism and live up to its history of fine reporting.

—Steven L. Wertheim ’79

PBE decision reflects poorly on MIT

In 1956 I entered MIT from Fargo North Dakota and became a proud member of PBE a fraternity that was and is known for its good taste, good manners, good values, loyal and involved alumni group, and accomplished people. In my class was the future COO of Microsoft, the Minister of the Interior of Columbia, and one of the inventors of digital music. I was dismayed to learn of the decision of MIT to suspend PBE for four years, a death sentence and a blot on its reputation. What is troubling to me is that this extreme action was apparently taken based on a process that was flawed in so many ways. The result not only affects PBE, its members, and its alumni (which in the aggregate are significant supporters of the school) but even more seriously the reputation of MIT itself. I request that you review this incident and convince yourself that the process meets MIT standards of professional integrity and fairness. The PBE community really needs to be heard.

—Dave Aaker, ’60

PBE helped this Marshall scholar

I am writing to express my extreme dissatisfaction with MIT’s handling of the recent sanctions against my second home, Phi Beta Epsilon. PBE was instrumental in my development during my time at MIT, and has become increasingly dear to my heart in the years following my graduation.

It was my supportive home at PBE that allowed me to be academically successful at MIT. I was the fortunate recipient of a Marshall Scholarship in 2000 during my senior year at PBE — the year I also served as President of the Active Brotherhood of PBE — to study in the United Kingdom for three years. This achievement would not have been possible without my brothers at and loving support of PBE. I would encourage you to review what percentage of MIT FSILGs are able to produce Marshall or Rhodes Scholars (as I am certainly neither the first nor will be the last of many from MIT), and I am certain I would not have been able to be as academically successful were it not for the supportive and loving environment of PBE.

Thank you, and have a good day.

—Jasper James “JJ” Chen ’00

PBE expulsion process didn’t consider everything

I am writing to express my outrage and utter disappointment in the decision rendered by MIT/IFC to suspend my beloved Phi Beta Epsilon. It is extremely upsetting to learn that a decision to shut down a 120 year old institution of incredibly rich history, accomplishment, and human value can be made in such a hasty manner through a shockingly biased process based on one piece of circumstantial evidence. I am URGING you and your administration to take a closer look at Phi Beta Epsilon and make a full assessment of not only the risk involved, but the benefit that our organization has brought to generations of students, alumni, and society at large.

PLEASE look at all the facts and ask yourself what the real risk here is. You will realize that the risk of alienating Phi Beta Epsilon’s students, alumni, and allies far outweighs any risks presented by the initiation practices in question, which I can assure you amount to no more than that of the “trust fall” which my entire class was made to endure during the Institute’s orientation proceedings in the Fall of 1994.

—Eugene Park ’98

PBE changed my mind about fraternities

I am an unlikely candidate to defend a fraternity. I came to MIT prejudiced against fraternities in general and actually walked out of my own initiation temporarily, not because it was dangerous, uncomfortable or embarrassing, but because I thought it was too silly. Fortunately, after further thought I realized that the Initiation was not what was important about the fraternity and I returned and was questioned and then welcomed back to the ceremony. This was 40 years ago and I know for a fact that the initiation procedures are even milder now than they were then and it would take a leap of imagination to turn them into a violation of the Hazing Policy.

I say that it was fortunate that I returned because I became who I am at MIT and PBE in partnership, and I am proud to be who I am and I am even more proud of the many Brothers I came to know there. I pledged PBE despite my negative preconceptions about fraternities because I was confronted by members there who challenged me to think about who I was and what I was doing in an intellectually demanding way.

Of course, that is totally in line with the educational mission of MIT which I believe is to teach students to continue to ask questions until truth is discovered. I am asking that that principle be followed in this case so that the truth is not shunted aside in favor of protecting other principles such as “independence of student government” or other political goals.

You have already received other letters with more details on the facts so I will close with the observation that the members of PBE are a tiny percentage of the entire MIT community, but that should not make us expendable.

Don Arkin ’72