Opinion letter to the editor

Faculty advisor responds to column on MIT India Conference

This is a response to an article published Feb. 9, “Shunned by Harvard, feted by MIT.

To the Editors,

I am writing in my capacity as an advisor to the student organizers of the MIT India Conference, scheduled for this Saturday, and as faculty director of the MIT-India Program.

The opinion column published in The Tech, “Shunned by Harvard, feted by MIT,” describes the controversy surrounding Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a member of India’s ruling party who will join the conference by video. The writers detail a number of statements Dr. Swamy has made and suggest that his participation is out of sync with MIT’s values. I would like to offer some perspective.

First, the conference organizers and faculty advisors have an unequivocal and unwavering commitment to MIT’s values. Among those values is inclusion, of course, but also freedom of expression and a willingness to listen to those whose views may differ from our own. Dr. Swamy will speak about India’s economic future, a topic I believe is appropriate for the MIT India Conference. The student organizers have programmed the event to include a diversity of opinions. It’s important to note that inclusion does not equate to endorsement — by the organizers, the advisors, or the Institute. My role as an advisor and educator is to position our students to engage with, not isolate themselves from, those with different — sometimes even abhorrent — views. Therefore, I think it is important that we find opportunities to hear from those with whom we disagree. As moderator of Dr. Swamy’s session, I will work to maintain a dialogue that is open but respectful.

Second, the event is student run, with the guidance of faculty and staff advisors. Over the last few days, as the student organizers faced pressure to disinvite Dr. Swamy, they came together to consider how best to proceed. Some feel that Dr. Swamy’s statements are so egregious as to make him unfit to participate. Others believe he has something important to say about India’s future. I understand and respect both positions. Ultimately, the students took a vote, with the majority opposed to rescinding the invitation.  

While the student organizers are divided on this particular issue, I am grateful for their dedication to this important conference. And I am grateful for their willingness to work together despite their differences of opinion.


S.P. Kothari