What will it take to get MIT to stand up for its own students and researchers?


#1

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#2

It’s going to take them coming out in large numbers, protesting their treatment by the university, that’s what. MIT, like many other universities, dos not want to jepordize it’s funding sources, especially those that come from the government and corporations. They will not stand up for their students and faculty until the students and faculty make it clear that what happened to students like Star and others like her and the response by the university is unacceptable.


#3

I guess I don’t understand why MIT was obligated to help her at all? Was the circuit board shirt part of a school project or something?


#4

In this case, MIT could have helped out by keeping their cakehole shut instead of tossing her under the bus. They came out with a statement saying “Star Simpson’s actions were reckless and understandably created alarm” while she was still being questioned, before they literally could have known anything.

Why might they do that instead of waiting to hear about what the offense was from the student herself? This is a university that looks the other way when students decorate their dome against the rules, why aren’t they at least willing to wait until the investigation is somewhat complete before throwing up their hands in dismay?

They’re not obligated to help her, but there is at least an obligation to make things worse for her.


#5

They are benefiting economically off her attending their university? Presumable she pays tuition and fees or has a scholarship that pays her way.


#6

Or that MIT likes the idea of intellectual curiosity and the spirit of innovation that it brings. That they might want to defend those types of people has a huge influence on those same people deciding to attend MIT.

Let’s look at it this way. Say you’ve got a mailperson who likes to do magic tricks for people if they happen to be home when delivering the mail. Are you obligated in any way to keep them doing magic tricks? No, but you could just have a normal mailperson. If you’d like to keep the magic tricks coming with the mail, supporting them and not saying their tricks are “reckless” might keep that mailperson delivering your mail.

You’ll get your mail either way, but mail + magic is probably better than just plain mail (as long as said magic doesn’t involve making your mail disappear).


#7

MAGICIAN COP!


#8

Every now and then a story like this gains traction, and the university in question suddenly bends over backward to support and accommodate the student. Somebody needs to develop a student’s press kit. I would, except I don’t know dick about PR.


#9

Is this NOT a perfect example of “the terrorists win”?

Is this NOT a perfect example of the commoditization of human capital?

Is this NOT a perfect example of “dollars first”?

Shame on MIT.


#10

STEM majors are generally not great at sticking their necks out, that’s my personal observation. I’ve not really considered the reasons.


#11

What will it take to get MIT to stand up for its own students and researchers?

Same thing it takes with effectively countering any deeply-entrenched institution: consequences! Telling them that they are doing something unfair and spineless is unlikely to persuade anyone who wasn’t already sympathetic. Instead of mass complaining, people need to confront them directly, and force them to negotiate. Having some teeth usually means real consequences for them if they refuse to change how they do things. Then, let them decide.


#12

Great reminder… I have an original ATHF Boston Bomb Scare LED sign/device in storage. Any offers?


#13

How? 


#14

Hard to get yourself onto a team for publishing if you’re known as a “troublemaker”? o_O


#15

So I’ve thought about it, and I don’t have any facts or figures to back this up, so please don’t forget to pick up your complementary grain of salt on the way out.

It might be that people don’t want to miss out on collaborations, but the reality is that your undergrad population outnumbers your graduate population, and engineers don’t have the same connection to publication as the “pure” sciences. Undergraduates (with exceptions) are rarely in a position to offer more collaborative effort than filling the role of a technician, they simply don’t have the skills yet. Then there’s the fact that professors and PIs are academics. It’s not a given that they will disapprove of a student objecting to university policies, they probably have a few gripes themselves. I think it’s something else.

I think that a good proportion of STEM majors are either from immigrant families or are foreign nationals compared to the humanities. This is more than a stereotype, and it has a lot to do with prestige and expectations. If you get a visa to get into the US, I can absolutely see why you would hesitate to engage in civil disobedience. If you’re a foreign national, you might see this as being a problem of the country you’re staying in, and you may feel like your opinion on the matter is not likely to have much of an impact. When in Rome, etc…

Second, I think that you’re more likely to find a conservative contingent among STEM fields. I had one of my favorite professors show up with his picture in the local paper because he signed onto a coalition of Pro-Life doctors and academics. I admit I wasn’t terribly surprised because he spoke in passing about passing his pastor’s exam, but I avoid ascribing certain views to people simply because they are religious, and I was a little disappointed. Activism among academics is really more of a leftist, humanities tradition. There certainly have been scientists and engineers with social consciousness who are and were very strident in their views, but that’s not something that emerged from the academic culture around them.

Finally, I think they’re busier. I have thought about this a lot, and the simple fact of the matter is that I could do a lot better in an advanced humanities class and have more leisure time than I would in some of the more basic science or math classes. I felt like “the humanities are just easier” had to be an oversimplification, and I reached the conclusion that the issue just runs deeper. Look at the average time to get a PhD in STEM versus the humanities. I’ve observed STEM fields have shorter median time to graduate with a PhD versus the humanities. I think the median time to acquire a history PhD is eight years compared to chemistry’s five. I think that humanities undergrad programs are less rigorous and the grad programs are forced to make up for this.

The difficulty and workload are simply displaced, in part because they’re less subject to market forces. A B.S. in engineering involves technical proficiency and skills that have to track closely with a specific market. The skills you acquire as an undergraduate humanities major are less sensitive to this kind of specific pressure. This leaves STEM majors using semesters (or quarters in MIT’s case) that are the same duration as humanities majors to complete more work and to sink in more practice. Anecdotally, STEM students seem a lot more intense and seem to have more time pressure.


#16

The mail-disappearers are on the fast-track NSA grad programme


#17

I usually let myself into their house, and once they get home from work, I surprise them and we chat for a while.

Other options are to meet them at school anyway, despite their protests. Or in public at an awkward time. Even mailing them a registered letter explaining their options can work. If they have another meeting somewhere, and the door is krazy-glued shut, you might find them outside.

You’ve got to get to know the person, a few things about their schedule, and be inventive.


#18

Reminds me of the class that graduated a few years before I matriculated (ooh, 25¢ word!)…

It was the height of the Viet Nam war and the university had selected an Army general as the commencement speaker.

Most of the graduates were against the war, but also realized that as engineers, scientists and such many would find employment in the Military-Industrial Complex.

So, how to express their displeasure? They could throw tomatoes or rotten fruit or stones, but that would be destructive and messy or hurt someone.

They chose to throw marshmallows. It showed their attitude about the war, while only leaving little puffs of powdered sugar on the general’s uniform which could easily be brushed off…


#19

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