A record of the resolution, writings, and speeches written by Professor Kenneth R. Manning and me in connection with MIT's press statement labeling Ms. Star Simpson as "reckless."

On the morning of 21 September 2007, Star Simpson was arrested at Boston's Logan Airport. Before Ms. Simpson, '10, was able to return to MIT to seek help following her release, MIT issued the following press statement:

“MIT is cooperating fully with the State Police in the investigation of an incident at Logan Airport this morning involving Star Simpson, a sophomore at MIT. As reported to us by authorities, Ms. Simpson's actions were reckless and understandably created alarm at the airport.”

The Manning–Winston Resolution

Shortly before 17 October 2007, Professor Kenneth R Manning and I, noting a congruence of our reaction and that of many colleagues, determined to introduce the following resolution at the MIT Faculty Meeting of 17 October 2007:

“In light of the Star Simpson event, we, the MIT faculty, request that the MIT administration refrain from making public statements that characterize or otherwise interpret—through news office releases, legal agents, or any other means—the behavior and motives of members of the MIT community whose actions are the subject (real or potential) of pending criminal investigation. We offer this resolution to foster mutual trust within the MIT community and to promote due process for all.”

Speeches and commentary

During the Faculty Meeting of 17 October 2007, I delivered a speech in support of the Manning-Winston resolution in which I expressed concern about the trend in MIT's community values toward a more corporate and legalistic atmosphere (Column 2). The resolution was tabled to allow further discussion.

Soon thereafter, Professor Manning and I explained why we acted in the November/December issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter for the benefit of those not present at the Faculty Meeting of 17 October 2007.

Our resolution was taken from the table at the MIT Faculty Meeting of 19 December 2007. Professor Manning spoke about our cherished right to due process and how MIT compromised that right. I rose to offer thoughts on leadership, loyalty and pride and I complained about inappropriate administration efforts to influence the faculty vote (Column 3) .

Professor Manning and I asked the faculty officers to have our remarks included in the minutes of the meeting for the benefit of those not present at the Faculty Meeting. Our request was rejected.

Professor Manning offered his reflections on the 19 December 2007 MIT Faculty Meeting in the January/February issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter.

President Hockfield's expresses regret

At the 21 May 2008 faculty meeting, President Hockfield said that Star had been on her mind throughout the year, that she regreted MIT's reaction to Star's arrest, that the reaction was too hasty, and that the words in the press statement were poorly choosen.

Ms. Simpson expresses regret; charges dismissed

On 2 June 2008, the hoax device charge against Ms. Simpson was dismissed. A disorderly conduct charge was dismissed a year later as Ms. Simpson performed 50 hours of community service, was not arrested, and expressed regret, which she did.

Star I

I delivered these remarks extemporaneously and wrote them down from memory a few days later. The two versions differ in only small ways here and there. Discerning readers will note that the structure and phrasing are influenced by, at least, Henry, Churchill, and Shakespeare.

I want it to be known that I am a great admirer of this administration. That is because I admire vision, and President Hockfield made it clear in her inaugural address that this administration would have vision in abundance. I also admire energy, ability, hard work, and good intentions, and these too we have in abundance.

I hope therefore that my friends in the administration will not think me disloyal, or disrespectful, or ungrateful when I say that there is one area in which I see things in a very different light.

I also want it to be known that this is not about Star Simpson, nor is it about a particular incident. It is about who we are as a community and how we want the world to think of us.

My own views were shaped many years ago when I was a 19 or 20 year old undergraduate here at MIT. It was October, and the previous summer I had purchased my first car, a Volkeswagon, near the end of its service life. After driving it around Europe a little, I imported it.

Then, it occurred to me from time to time that I should think about getting it registered in Massachusetts.

But—I was busy.

Then one night, or rather early on a Sunday morning, I was detained by the Wellesley police. They were upset because my car's muffler didn't amount to much, and they became additionally upset when they discovered my license plates were foreign and expired.

I say “detained” but many years later, in the course of a routine security-clearance background investigation, I found that I was considered arrested.

In any case, I eventually received a summons, and a few days after that, I got a call from Chief Olivieri of the MIT campus police. He asked a few questions, and then indicated he would see me in court, which he did. When my case came up, he asked for and was granted a bench conference with the judge.

I don't know what Chief Olivieri said, but I imagine he said I was a good boy; a good student; not inclined toward reckless behavior; but just a little clueless perhaps, a common characteristic of boys just in from the corn fields of Illinois. In any case, the judge chuckled and dismissed the case.

I've told that story many times to many people—students, staff, faculty—anyone contemplating a move to MIT. I use it to buttress my claim that MIT has always been as close to an extended family as an organization can be.

But in the past year or two, I have begun to hear grumbling, not yet loud, not yet deep, but with increasing frequency.

People say our press releases look like they were written by lawyers, rather than people.

People say that we condemn first and ask questions later.

People say that when someone embarrasses us, we spit them out like cherry pits.

And I read in The Tech that the Chancellor, in reference to MIT's characterization of Ms. Simpson as reckless, has said “it seemed like the right word at the time...we didn't know the facts.” I hope someone can explain to me the system of logic that joins those thoughts.

So I decided to join with Professor Manning, to sponsor this resolution, even though it is not really what I want.

What I want is for people everywhere to say that MIT is a place that forgives—when it can; that supports—when it can; and that weeps—when it cannot.

But I don't know how to frame those sentiments in a clear and precise and forceful resolution, so I will have to vote for what we have.

There are three reasons why I think you should vote for it as well:

First, it is the right thing to do.

Second, it is offered in a constructive spirit.

And third, while we on the faculty have stood idle, our students were in the field. Their protests fill the pages of The Tech; their concerns echo in the halls.

Let us do them honor by showing that we are not bound up by sloth and indifference. Let us show them that we too are eager to protect our values and our reputation.

17 October 2007

Star II

I delivered these remarks extemporaneously and wrote them down from memory a few weeks later. The two versions differ in only small ways here and there.

When I spoke at the faculty meeting on October 17, I said I was a great admirer of our administration, and today there is nothing I wish to amend or subtract from that. I also said that I hoped my friends in the administration will not think me disrespectful or disloyal or ungrateful if I step across the aisle from time to time to join the loyal opposition on certain matters. I still hope so.

At the faculty meeting on May 16, I rose to say I thought the press release announcing the resignation of Marilee Jones was sanctimonious and meanspirited. I asked if it was a sign of a shift toward a more corporate and legal atmosphere and away from a collegial and community-oriented atmosphere.

Many of my colleagues have told me, spontaneously, that they remember my question; no one remembers the answer. The words in the response seemed to fall into legitimate phrases, but they gave little comfort. To me, the real answer came, on Friday afternoon, September 21, when MIT issued a press statement labeling a student's actions as “reckless,” and the answer was affirmed when the Chancellor apparently told The Tech that “It seemed like the right word at the time...we didn't know the facts.”

Because I did not like that answer, I combined with Professor Manning to introduce the resolution before you. I said at the time that it was not really about Star Simpson or a particular incident. It is about who we are as a community, how we function, and how we are perceived.

Accordingly, as I outline what has happened since we introduced our resolution, my range will seem broad, but always consistent with identifying the substantive differences of opinion exposed by the Star Simpson incident.

Shortly after the October faculty meeting, Professor Sussman and I went for a bicycle ride around the Concord–Carlisle loop. It was a glorious day; the sun was shining, and Professor Sussman lectured beautifully on the physics of the bicycle, with special emphasis on the relationship between fork angle and stability. Unfortunately, my wallet went missing.

The following Monday I started replacing my cards. I was most eager to replace my MIT ID card. My first impression was that it is an improvement; more colorful than the battleship gray card that I imagine most of you still carry. But when I got back to the Stata Center and pulled out my card to buy a cup of coffee, I noted what I thought was a mistake. I am conspicuously identified not as a professor, not as a member of the faculty, but rather as an employee. Now I suppose in some legal sense I am an employee, and perhaps President Hockfield's card says employee, too—I hope not—but nevertheless, it grates on me. I can't imagine introducing myself at public-service meeting somewhere as an employee of MIT, and I think people would be astonished if I did.

I don't mean, by the way, to be elitist. Members of the staff at MIT, in every capacity, are as hard working, dedicated, and important as anyone. I would be happy with a card we could all carry, and it could say colleague, or comrade, or best of all, perhaps constituent.

I thought for a while of burning my ID card ceremoniously, but then it occurred to me that there is an engineering solution. Duct tape. Now I can be anything I want, and I can change from time to time.

It is, I suppose, a nugatory example, but it is an example nevertheless of someone making decisions for me that doesn't seem to understand universities, that doesn't seem to understand MIT, and certainly doesn't understand me.

What else? The Chair of the Faculty has instructed us, in the November/December issue of the Faculty Newsletter, on the subject of discussion. I had some trouble decrypting the article, but I think I have been taught that we should speak face to face when we differ, but only if the discussion has an low temperature. Alas, I think that would limit me to comments on the food in the faculty lunch room, because when an issue really matters, the temperature of my remarks tends to rise with the importance of the issue, and so it is today.

And then there are the dogs that have not barked in the night. Months have past and no communication has passed from the administration to Star Simpson. And there has been no indication that the administration regrets having issued the statement in which she was characterized as “reckless.”

There was a meeting of the Faculty Policy Committee, which I attended as a guest, at which the Chancellor shared a bit more about how the word “reckless” was selected. He reported that it was arrived at, after many hours of deliberation, by senior members of administration and that the campus police, the medical department, and others were consulted. I was surprised that he did not mention the Vice President for External Affairs or the Institute Counsel, but then, in an epiphanous moment, it occurred to me that they are part of the senior administration.

Medical? I don't suppose they were asked if Star had been in to have her tonsils looked at. I hoped they responded to the questions put to them with the blank stare that has so famously characterized our psychiatrists for many decades, but perhaps that is a tradition that is fading along with others.

We also heard the Chancellor explain that the public thinks of us as arrogant and that the public demands immediate answers. I thought we could have said that she was a student, that she was or seemed likely to be charged, and to ensure her right to a fair trial, MIT would have no further comment while the matter was in the courts. Would the public not have understood that?

The Chancellor also indicated that he had been working up some sort of principles and he recited a preliminary version. I have not seen the version he intends to introduce today, so I will have to anticipate from a version that has been circulated, although not to me and not universally.

I anticipate that one principle is that we should obey the law. Professor Manning and I concur. We should obey the law, except, perhaps, in cases of deliberate civil disobedience.

Another is that we should choose our words carefully, or perhaps more carefully. But many senior people worked for hours to arrive at the word reckless. Was this a careful choice? Was it selected instead of a more damning word?

We should avoid compromising a student's right to a fair trial. I thought the right to a fair trial is guaranteed by our Constitution. Why are we merely to avoid compromising that right?

We should support our students. We handed a Star Simpson a list of lawyers with no communication for the next three months. Is that support?

And I expect there will be some complicated principle about establishing context or something that essentially gives our external relations people free rein to do just about anything.

These principles look like what they are. Porous, post facto statements intended to justify a past blunder, rather than nobly conceived ideas intended to guide us in moments in which circumstances interfere with reflective thinking.

But these principles frighten me in another way because they are so easily caricatured. Just ask for what they are intended. Are they meant to represent a policy shift? I can see the headline in Voodoo now: MIT announces a dramatic policy shift; laws to be obeyed.

Perhaps they are meant as instruction for middle-level administration. Whom have we hired that doesn't understand that MIT should not interfere with a person's right to a fair trial?

Or maybe they are merely affirmation of established policy. If so, let us remember the dog that did not bark in the night: a list of lawyers and three months of silence. Is this a principle-derived practice we want to affirm?

Or perhaps the list is a mixture of shift, instruction, and affirmation. There are 729 possibilities. How will our external affairs people explain to the public which interpretation is the right one?

But perhaps the list is best noted for what it misses. Not a word about people in our community other than students, and nothing that suggests we will bother to talk with the student or the student's representative before we characterize them.

We do not want these principles. We need just one principle: MIT takes care of its own. And let the principle be interpreted by what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature, rather than the lesser angels of lawyers and publicists. Then, we can have an MIT we can be proud of. An MIT we can be loyal to. And an MIT at which we can do the work that the nation and the world expect of us.

On the matter of loyalty, I want to speak to the relation between loyalty and leadership. Many years ago, as a freshly minted member of the Naval Research Advisory Committee, I was touring the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California. The tour guide seemed exceptionally knowledgeable, and although in civilian clothes, carried herself with military bearing, so I asked, “Are you an ex-marine?” She said, “Professor Winston, there are live marines and dead marines; there are no ex-marines.”

Where does such loyalty come from? Perhaps some of the explanation lies in their motto, Semper Fidelis. Always faithful, not sometimes faithful, not faithful if the public relations people don't object. Always faithful.

But there is more to it of course, and to check out my impressions, I called a friend of mine, a retired vice admiral, a pilot in back in the Vietnam era, and asked him what it is about the Marines. “Well,” he said, “it's all about leadership.” “What does that mean?” I asked, “What makes a good officer?”

“To start with, the officers take care of the men and women who serve under them. They work hard to ensure that those men and women know their mission, that they are well trained and well equipped, well fed and well rested, and helped and encouraged to develop their careers.”

“Yes,” I said to myself, “just what I expected.” And after we chatted a bit about this and that, and the conversation was coming to a close, he said, “Oh, and there is one more thing about the Marines. They never leave their wounded behind.”

They never leave their wounded behind. There is no instruction; none is needed. There are no rules about when you can leave the wounded behind because you do not leave the wounded behind. You do not think about whether you should; you do not consult with the public relations people; you just do not leave the wounded behind.

Did we leave Star Simpson behind? She was not wounded in a physical sense, thank god, and it wasn't a battle, but we left her behind. In fact, we handed her over to the fourth estate and they cut her to pieces. Try your search engine on “Star Simpson reckless,” and you will see page after page saying false and terrible things in close proximity to remarks about how MIT characterized her as “reckless.”

During the past few days I have sent messages to many of you asking you to come to this meeting, to listen to colleagues speak to both sides of the resolution before us, to participate, and then to vote your conclusions. I asked for no response but I was surprised to get 50. A few, mostly from the Sloan School, showed political maturity and merely thanked me for raising important issues, but the rest with only three exceptions, were highly supportive. Two of the exceptions agreed with the sentiments behind the resolution but disagreed with our approach; one, encouraged perhaps by the word “reckless,” adheres to the false idea that the incident was a deliberate prank or hack gone bad. Three exceptions, a few guarded encouragements, and the rest highly supportive. So I thought this resolution would pass.

Now, I think not. I have heard, in a manner that makes me believe it, that the administration has asked some deans, who have in turn asked some department chairs, to ask faculty to come to this meeting and support the administration. We all know the power of department chairs. They control tenure. They control raises. They have enormous power to reward or punish. Are they here? Are they watching how their faculty vote? I'm proud to say that my department chairman is here and he is not watching, but what about others?

How can this happen? I asked people to come and participate. Someone asked people in power to encourage their faculty to vote with the administration. Somehow I'm reminded of Section 9.5 of Policies and Procedures, which stipulates that “Harassment is any conduct, ... that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational, work, or living environment.” Someone, it seems to me, has a lot of explaining to do.

Well, some of my friends have told me I'm getting into trouble and suggest that I should adopt a pseudonym, a sort of nom de guerre. I've decided they're right, but I haven't much imagination in these matters, so I will merely adopt the name of a distant relative. It isn't much of a change, really. I plan just to drop my family name in favor of my middle name. So if you should see articles in the Faculty Newsletter by Patrick Henry, you'll have a good idea who it is.

19 December 2007

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

A record of questions asked pursuant to the layoff of Dean Jackie Simonis.

Concerned by what I perceive to be a steady erosion of MIT culture and values, I resolved again to question the Administration, this time at the Faculty Meeting on 17 February 2010. I posed my questions extemporaneously and wrote them down from memory an hour or so later.

I have two questions, both of which I am reluctant to ask, for various reasons. However, I feel compelled to ask them, also for various reasons, one of which is the doctrine of implied consent.

Both questions are derived from my reading of the September/October 2009 issue of the Faculty Newsletter.

One article described the layoff of Dean Jackie Simonis. I do not know Dean Simonis personally, but I know she was at MIT for 23 years and that she was highly valued and respected by many MIT Faculty for her service as a counselor to students in need of help, many very seriously in need of help. I am told that she has sharp edges and is inclined toward being outspoken, but perhaps none of that is material.

What drew my attention was the description in the Faculty Newsletter of her layoff on 22 June 2009:

“[She] went to a scheduled meeting...Jackie was told that her position had been eliminated for financial reasons, that she was being laid off, and that her last day at work was that day. She was told that she was expected to be available to coordinate the transfer of her responsibilities while working from her home. She was not allowed to speak with her colleagues in private, nor to return to work in her office...”

My first reaction was, “Well, somebody is sure to be taken behind the woodshed and get a good thrashing for this.”

Then, I turned to the very next page of the Faculty Newsletter, and read the juxtaposed article by the Chancellor, presumably speaking for the Administration, who wrote:

“All of the layoffs in student life were the result of budget reductions...The layoffs, at all levels, were initiated and conducted according to Institute policies and procedures, in consultation with, and with the full participation by, MIT Human Resources. The process is consistent with MIT culture and values.”

This leads me to my first question: Exactly when and by whose direction were adjustments made so as to bring the treatment of Dean Simonis within the scope of our culture and values?

I anticipate that we will not hear a full answer to this question for legal reasons. This troubles me greatly. My father, who was himself a small-town lawyer, told me when I was a small boy, “Patrick, a good lawyer can keep you out of jail, but no lawyer can get you into heaven.”

By extension I suggest that a good lawyer can guide this Institution away from litigation, but no lawyer can guide us toward greatness. That comes from our better angels, not from law books.

In any case, you of the Administration have had nothing more to say on the matter since the Chancellor's article appeared. There has been no apology, no statement of regret, and no indication of remorse.

The natural consequence is that hundreds of our best people at MIT are saying “If it could happen to Dean Simonis, it could happen to me.” They are asking themselves, “If I am too outspoken, will I find myself on the next list of people to be laid off for financial reasons?”

This brings me to my second question: What specifically have you done, or do you plan to do, if anything, to assuage the widespread fear among our people that they will be treated like Dean Simonis, in a manner that seems to me to be not at all in accord with MIT's culture and values?

17 February 2010

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