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MIT being sued for 2009 suicide

MIT being sued for 2009 suicide

A wrongful death lawsuit filed against MIT by the family of the late Sloan doctoral student, Han Duy Nguyen, advanced toward a possible trial last month when a Middlesex Superior Court judge denied MIT’s request to dismiss the suit on the basis of a technicality. The claim, filed in 2011, alleged that Institute officials were negligent with regard to his mental health before his suicide in 2009.

In June of that year, Nguyen sent a “potentially offensive” email to a faculty member who was considering taking him on as a research assistant, according to The Boston Globe. Birger Wernerfelt and Drazen Prelec, two of Nguyen’s professors who had recommended him for the position and were among a few who had concerns about his well-being, agreed to confront him. Wernerfelt called Nguyen and chastised him angrily for his behavior. A few minutes later, Nguyen jumped off Building E19 and fell six stories to his death.

MIT, the two professors, and an associate dean, who were all listed as defendants in the lawsuit, have denied culpability. To limit its liability, MIT attempted to dismiss the claim by arguing that Nguyen should be classified as an employee, but his family’s attorney pointed out that MIT and other schools have maintained that graduate students are not employees in order to avoid unionization.

—Sanjana Srivastava

4 Comments
1
Anu Sood over 3 years ago

Hey MIT, please settle this matter as quickly as possible. There are no winners here. I don't want the ensuing negative publicity for my alma mater!

2
Anonymous over 3 years ago

Um, thanks #1, but maybe we should be more concerned about accountability and justice, rather than negative publicity? Sounds like the Bill Frezza article, in which he bemoaned women falling out of windows (or presumably getting raped) because of fraternity liability rather than the plight of those MIT women. My personal experience as an alum was that MIT was a cold place where people were often depressed (thus "IHTFP") and felt like they had nowhere to turn. My cherished hope is that MIT creates an environment that promotes excellent health among its frequently overstressed students. And I'd hope most others value the students versus the reputation of the college (which incidentally would be enhanced by better services).

3
Anonymous over 3 years ago

2-- If people with a personal stake in publicity deny their true intentions and instead adopt the rhetoric of accountability and justice, they are merely being dishonest. Is not dishonesty bad? Dishonest manipulators are often those who commit the gravest injustices.

Accountability and justice are good things that a civilized society must have, but, perhaps, we must pursue them out of shared respect for those values, an acceptance of the natural evil of human nature and a vested interest in creating a world fit for our children.

Or, perhaps you are right, and we should not communicate our self-interested goals honestly, and instead lie constantly. Perhaps that will make us better people.

4
Anu Sood over 3 years ago

Of course the focus should be on improving the entire human experience including mental health, accountability, and justice. My comment presumes that we have a disagreement between two parties, and the resolution can be either by mutual settlement or by judge and jury. With a mutual settlement it is more likely that both parties can be satisfied that accountability and justice are served, and there can be provisions to study/implement ways to improve the human experience of students and researchers at MIT. The longer something like this is dragged out, the worst it is for both parties, and yes the negative publicity is not good for the image of the school and the morale of stakeholders. A constructive settlement that is done fairly and swiftly can be a positive for all involved, and yes it has the best chance of improving the MIT environment.

As to the issue of fraternity accidents and concern about liability rather than addressing the underlying issues is not even comparable to this situation. Of course we need to fix what is broken. I don't know enough about this specific case to know who was right and who was wrong. In fact, the statement about MIT's request to dismiss based on a technicality is what spurred me to comment on this. They should not try to dismiss the matter via legal wrangling and maneuvering. They should do the right thing, and in that respect my experience is that it is best to settle if you seek fairness and progress.

Finally, I appreciate your experience at MIT and know others that share the same feelings. I personally was there for 5 years and can tell you that, while my life experience was full of turbulence, angst, and a robust multifaceted serving of failures (I was an undergraduate "problem child"), I never felt it to be a cold, depressing, or isolated place. I had tremendous support from upperclassmen in my fraternity, my department advisor, undergraduate advisor and various other faculty, administrative personnel (bursar, registrar), and mental health services at the infirmary. My kids went to larger schools that were bureaucratic and probably "cold" in your context. The more I think about it, I actually had an amazing and wonderful experience at MIT, something that I don't think I could have found anywhere else on this planet.