The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 56.0°F | Fair

Success means much more than an MIT degree

Assistant Professor of Management John Parsons's May 10 letter accused the editors of The Tech of a "self-righteous call for students and others at MIT to become more informed" without being informed themselves.

Although this observation is correct to a certain extent, I read a deeper message in the editorial board's opinion.

Opponents of apartheid demonstrated in front of the Student Center on April 24. Following the rally, the protesters walked to the the office of President Paul E. Gray '54 and made an effort to see him. They were unruly and loud -- part of an effective public protest.

When Gray came out to speak to them, however, their mood did not change to hear his position. The protestors became accusatory and downright rude. Gray tried to say he could only speak for MIT and himself, not the MIT Corporation.

University presidents at other schools refused to talk to anti-apartheid demonstrators. At Columbia, President Michael I. Sovern talked to leaders of the blockade of Hamilton Hall only after two hunger strikers had been hospitalized.

The editors of The Tech were trying to show that there are limits beyond which protestors cannot go if they desire changes in large social structures. The limits are not of passion, zeal or morality; they are limits of manners. The only way MIT's investment policy will change is if pressure is placed on the MIT Corporation. President Gray is perhaps the best single source for this kind of pressure, if he is inclined to argue for a cause.

Gray said MIT is not likely to withdraw its investments in corporations with operations in South Africa, because MIT's investments do not strengthen the South African government. Before he even spoke to the protesters, however, one student proclaimed, "[Gray] will gladly lie if it will defuse student activism on campus."

The main point of the Tech editorial was that change will not be effected with this inability to communicate.

I believe the editorial board wanted to make a statement which would redirect the course of protests at MIT. The best way to protest injustice is to convince the target -- the MIT Corporation, in this case -- of the improprieties in its policies. Before any debate can occur, however, both sides must be prepared with a thorough familiarity with the issue on both sides, not just their own.

When the editorial called for students to inform themselves about divestment, it was because the board considered ignorance the main source of the childish confrontation.

Parsons correctly pointed out that the duty of The Tech is to provide this information. The editorial, however, was as much a call to the editors of The Tech to become informed as it was a call to the student body. The editorial was printed a few weeks before the end of the term and, in effect, offered a topic for summer reading and inquiry. I hope the staff and editors of The Tech will use this time to inform themselves so that future reporting and commentary on the subject will be better founded.

The issue of South African apartheid has been around for a long time, but recently it has become a "burning issue," in Parsons words, on campuses across the country. The Tech is aware that the issue has been studied for a long time. The Dean's Office may sponsor seminars in the fall to help educate the community. I encourage Professor Parsons to participate in their planning.

I do not believe it was with the spirit of "carping at those" who are discussing the apartheid issue that the editorial was written. Its purpose was rather to ameliorate the conditions under which the discussions and protests take place. We all seek an end to apartheid and wish for fruitful, not childish, talks with the administration.

Perhaps it was "self-righteous" to tell students to inform themselves, as Parsons charges. It will take some time for The Tech to fully cover all the facets of a very broad issue like apartheid. In spite of this lack of information, the points made in the editorial were important enough to stand on their own.