Over 300 faculty sign statement opposing Trump’s cabinet picks
Statement signed by more than a quarter of faculty, now open to students and staff
More than 340 MIT faculty members, as of yesterday afternoon, have signed a statement opposing President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments and reaffirming their dedication to “principles at the core of MIT’s mission.”
The statement denounces discrimination, promotes open communication, and asserts the need to respect the scientific method. Signatories include four out of the ten Nobel Prize winners currently part of the MIT faculty, as well as author Junot Diaz and Affordable Care Act architect Jonathan Gruber.
The faculty statement was largely initiated and authored by members of the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department, including professors Nancy Kanwisher and Roger Levy, along with Sarah Schwettmann G and Rosa Lafer-Sousa G, whom The Tech interviewed at the Solidarity Rally last Monday.
The statement was first posted Nov. 21, the same day that a statement in support of undocumented immigrant students signed by hundreds of university presidents, including President Rafael Reif, went public.
“We first conceived of the statement starting about a week after the election,” Levy wrote in an email to The Tech. “This discussion got us thinking more broadly about the threat that certain campaign promises and administrative appointments pose not only to these students but to the core values of our community and institution.”
He added, “it got us thinking about the role that faculty at MIT... have to play in defending these values for the sake of our educational institutions and for society at large. This led to the idea of a formal statement of values.”
The letter, according to Schwettmann, was crafted after the cabinet appointments cited in the statement were made public.
Levy hopes that this statement will help establish “a precedent for university faculty across the country to continue to speak out strongly for the importance of science in public policy, and to stand up for diversity, inclusivity, and mutual respect in our educational institutions and in society at large.”
The statement is “not a declaration of partisan affiliation, and it's not a request for any particular administrative policy change,” Schwettmann said.
For Schwettmann, this letter is also a part of a movement to “lift local successful efforts to a procedural level for replication elsewhere” — to spread the movement.
Asked how the letter was initially shared with fellow faculty, Kanwisher replied, “we emailed individual faculty we knew or who we thought might be interested. I sent no group emails other than to the faculty in my own department.”
“Part of the beauty of this statement lies in the fact that it really gained ground from the bottom up,” Schwettmann added, explaining why they did not email the statement to the entire faculty. “We didn’t want to pressure anyone to sign, or imply that the statement was representative of all of MIT.” In addition, she said, they didn’t have the authority to email the all-faculty mailing list.
“I suspect there are still many faculty who do not yet know about it,” Kanwisher added. “The number of faculty signers continues to grow every day.” Indeed, the number of signatories increased dramatically in the last few days as outside news organizations featured the faculty message and word of it spread.
Kanwisher hopes that the statement will reassure MIT students of faculty support and campus safety. She proposed that the list of signatories can help MIT community members interested in improving scientific outreach find “kindred spirits.”
Asked if she has received any replies of dissent from colleagues, Kanwisher replied that she believes most faculty members support the spirit of the statement. “Several people who agree with the spirit of the statement took issue with a particular word or phrase,” she noted. “This is normal; we academics are picky, and we are not in the habit of signing a statement someone else wrote.”
The statement has been featured in articles by the Los Angeles Times, Boston Magazine, and Breitbart News. While the press release for the faculty message focused on the angle of standing by MIT’s values, the outside press headlined its opposition to Trump’s cabinet decisions. Breitbart zeroed in on the authors’ criticism of Steve Bannon, previous Executive Chairman of Breitbart and current chief to Trump.
About 30 percent of MIT faculty have signed the statement as of yesterday afternoon. SHASS, which comprises 17 percent of MIT faculty, represents a disproportionately large percentage of the signatories at about 22 percent. The School of Engineering is underrepresented, with also about 22 percent of signatories, but comprising 37 percent of total faculty. These differences may be a result of the thus far uneven dissemination of the statement across departments.
The authors opened the statement to all MIT community members yesterday at 2:30 p.m. According the Schwettmann, there had been discussion with the undergraduate hosts of last week’s rally on the pros and cons of writing separate statements. They eventually decided to combine efforts after witnessing the impressive movement behind the faculty statement.
Schwettmann and others are organizing an MIT trip to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate during the inauguration of President-elect Trump.
The statement can be read and signed at mitvalues.org.