What you missed over the summer:

Bomb scare, computer fraud, Beta disbanded

4204 summer
A hazardous materials decontamination tent was set up in the Westgate parking lot on June 7 in response to a New House bomb scare. Cambridge and MIT police eventually determined that there was never any threat to campus safety, and that harmless construction materials were mistaken for pipe bombs. Nobody required decontamination.
Ethan A. Solomon—Tech file photo

Campus life certainly slows down during the summer, but the Institute still keeps running. While you were soaking up the sun in California, working an internship in Manhattan, or exploring Europe, MIT saw its fair share of action in Summer 2011.

New House bomb scare

On a bright Tuesday morning in early June, workers doing renovations in New House told the police they found “suspicious materials” in the dormitory’s New House 6, also known as German House — materials which appeared similar to pipe bombs. Within hours, the FBI and local and state police swarmed Amherst Alley, MIT Alert issued text messages and emails warning the community to “please stay away from Building W70 (New House),” and New and Next House were evacuated.

Yet after several tense hours, investigators found the objects were actually a “collection of harmless materials.” But for a while, the situation was touch-and-go.

“It looked at first blush like it was pretty serious,” said John DiFava, MIT’s director of facilities operations and security.

During the crisis — beginning with the initial report at 7:30 a.m. and ending with an all-clear at 2 p.m. — Cambridge police and firefighters used a high-pressure water cannon to “disrupt” the pile of materials. The disruption process can disable potential explosives without risking setting them off. During the operation, New House and Next House were evacuated of the few people, mostly GRTs, staying there over the summer.

According to Cambridge Police spokesman Dan Riviello, the objects were “metal tubes, one solid, one containing ball bearings and a granular material.” The tubes were near a group of liquids, which turned out to be cleaning chemicals. Pipe bombs often contain small objects, like ball bearings, adding to investigators’ initial concern.

DiFava said the disruption process caused only minor damage to the common area in New House where the suspicious objects were found.

Beta Theta Pi disbanded

In June, the alumni association of the 28-member MIT chapter of the national Beta Theta Pi fraternity decided to shut down the chapter, citing disappointing rush results, recent alcohol violations, and a very low standing within the Interfraternity Council (IFC).

“We wanted to have a smoother landing rather than a crash landing, so we decided to act and put ourselves up in place for a well-organized fresh start in a few years,” said Beta Alumni Association President Michael G. Feinstein ’82.

The Beta brothers were told of the decision to shut down the fraternity on June 5 — two days after commencement.

Many Beta brothers were out of town when the decision was announced. The brothers were asked to move out of their house within five days of being notified of the disbandment.

Victor Nevarez ’12, Beta president, said the brothers were not surprised by the decision, but were caught off-guard by the timing.

“The only thing people were really upset about was the short amount of time that was chosen. The decision itself, everyone saw it coming. It was mainly the execution,” said Nevarez.

Beta is planning for a fresh start in Fall 2013. It will not need to reapply to become a fraternity at MIT.

“We realize that they have a long history, and everybody will be working together to make sure they have a strong start that fall,” said Gordon W. Wintrob ’12, president of the IFC.

Swartz indicted for JSTOR theft

Aaron H. Swartz, the 24-year-old former co-owner of popular social media site Reddit and former Harvard Ethics fellow, was indicted on federal charges in July for using MIT’s network to illegally download nearly 5 million articles from the JSTOR academic journal archive. Swartz allegedly began downloading articles to a laptop in Sept. 2010 via a network drop in the basement of Building 16. For a time, he also left a laptop in the Student Information Processing Board (SIPB) office on the fifth floor of the Student Center.

After a brief foot chase, MIT police, in conjunction with U.S. Secret Service and Cambridge police, caught Swartz in Cambridge in January. Though JSTOR is not pressing charges, Swartz faces up to 35 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines on federal charges including wire fraud and computer fraud. Investigators allege Swartz planned to upload the articles to file-sharing networks.

Demand Progress, a group founded by Swartz which runs online campaigns to fight digital censorship, started a petition to raise support for Swartz. As of July 20, the petition garnered around 35,000 signatures.

EVP/Treasurer changes

MIT’s Executive Vice President and Treasurer Theresa M. Stone ’76 is stepping down. Current Vice President for Finance Israel Ruiz SM ’01 will succeed her. Formal confirmation will take place by a vote of the MIT Corporation on Oct. 14.

Summaries compiled by Ethan A. Solomon