The Star Simpson Affair

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. 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.

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. Believing that great leaders acknowledge mistakes, I and many others had a very positive reaction to President Hockfields remarks, which were delivered with persuasive sincerity.

Ms. Simpson expresses regret; charges dismissed

On 2 June 2008, the hoax device charge against Ms. Simpson was dismissed. A disorderly conduct charge will be dismissed a year later providing that Ms. Simpson perform 50 hours of community service, not be arrested, and express regret, which she did, via the following statement released by her lawyers:

``I want to apologize for the results of my conduct on September 21, 2007. Although I never intended to act in a disorderly fashion, I now realize that the shirt I created caused alarm and concern at Logan Airport. I am appreciative to the Massachusetts State Police for their diligence in protecting our citizens and apologize for the expense that was caused that day.''

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