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Reconsider divestment stand

[mk1](Editor's note: The Tech received this letter addressed to President Paul E. Gray '54.)

Dear President Gray,

I write to you regarding the Institute Colloquium on Apartheid, and its implications on the question of divestment. It is not my purpose here to argue one side over the other, but rather to express to you my reflections on what I heard, and what it might mean.

I am an undergraduate student in physics; my goal is to become a scientist and educator. In my mind, MIT is a representation of two inseparable traditions: the quest for truth in natural inquiry, and the perpetuation of a love of truth itself. This is not a statement I make lightly; it is a statement upon which I base my life.

You, President Gray, have shown courage and dedication to these values in allowing the Colloquium on Apartheid to occur. Apartheid and divestment are difficult and inflammatory issues; they have put you at odds with some students and faculty members. You must have seen the possibility of the Colloquium rousing further controversy, yet you took this risk for the sake of educating the MIT community in a formal dialogue of the issues. In allowing it to happen you demonstrated a love for truth and education, and for this you deserve thanks and respect.

The issues of the Colloquium went broader and deeper than the question "Should MIT divest?", yet I kept this in mind. To listen without prejudice is not a minor task; factors such as audience disposition and the strengths of the orators affect any open discourse. Yet even in putting these aspects aside, after watching the panel discussion on Thursday, it seemed very much to me that one set of ideas proved greater and more truthful than another: divestment would be a step toward justice.

Perhaps the outcome of this discourse was not clear to you, so that there remains in your mind an honest question of whether divestment would be ineffective or detrimental to the struggle of blacks in South Africa. In this case there is nothing for me to say, as it is not my intent here to argue this question. I wonder, on the other hand, if you heard, as I did, the reasons given in the past for not divesting being sufficiently refuted by members of the panel. This is the possibility I address.

Sometimes there exist motivations other than justice; we all work within power structures which we cannot control. These power structures may demand from us something other than the execution of justice. In these situations we must make a decision and answer to our own conscience. Perhaps sometimes the sacrifice of justice to satisfy these power structures is small enough that our conscience is not too troubled to be faced.

But you, President Gray, have a greater responsibility. You are more than an individual with a conscience; you are an educator and a policy maker. If there are motivations other than justice in MIT's position against divestment, then in the light of this colloquium, the integrity of the truth demands that these other motivations be put aside. As a policy maker, the burden is yours to see that integrity is maintained.

I wonder if I am out of place in telling you what the truth demands. You are MIT's president, I am simply a student; you do not answer to me. Yet perhaps you see, as I do, something sacred in education as the perpetuation not only of certain truths, but also of a tradition of love for the truth. A scientist plays a role in perpetuating this tradition by teaching students not only facts and methods, but also a love of truth in scientific inquiry. He/She sets an example for them. Yet in questions of policy, not to act on the truth is to deny the truth. Acting on the truth is another tradition which must be perpetuated; if you believe in this tradition then you must set an example. Thus, in a sense, you do answer to me, although not directly. You must answer to the tradition you value, with the role you play in the passage of this tradition from your generation to the next.

You are in a power structure which makes its own demands. Is this structure so pervasive that it can bring you to sacrifice so much?

We devote our lives to science and formal education, and are thus able to find meaning for ourselves. For the South African blacks, there is no science and no formal education; they must find meaning in the struggle against apartheid. To this end they will stop at nothing, for apartheid is not a sufferable evil. The South Africa which will enter the world community with a government of the majority might look to our great institutions and consider their merits. Our tradition of education will be judged not only by the technology it produces, but by the justice it fosters. Again, we will not answer to the South Africans directly, but to the role we play in their embracing or rejecting the traditions we value.

President Gray, please reconsider your stand on divestment.

Chris Paskoff '87->