Corporation meets amidst protest
By Andrea Lamberti
and Prabhat Mehta
About 40 demonstrators led by the MIT Coalition Against Apartheid last Friday took their call for divestment to the Alfred P. Sloan Building (Building E52), but failed to gain entry to the the sixth-floor Faculty Club, where members of the MIT Corporation were holding a luncheon.
To the rhythms of African drums and anti-apartheid chants, the demonstrators reached Sloan at approximately 1:30 pm after a day-long series of protests and marches which began at 7 am with a "wake up call" to President Paul E. Gray '54 at his 111 Memorial Drive home.
Five Campus Police officers were treated and released for minor injuries. No students were arrested.
The Sloan demonstration reached a climax when approximately eight students forced their way into the one guarded elevator programmed to go to the sixth floor. They were, however, unable to get the elevator off the floor because Ronald P. Suduiko, special assistant to the president for government and community relations, placed his body over the control panel while police officers held the doors open.
The students did not try to force Suduiko off the panel. Activist Seth A. Gordon '91, one of the students in the elevator, said the group wanted to keep the protest non-violent.
But extra Campus Police officers, with support from Metropolitan District Commission police officers shortly arrived at the elevator and forcefully pulled the resisting demonstrators out. Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin said the five CPs were injured during this elevator incident.
The protest remained in and around Sloan until shortly after 2 pm, when the group marched back to the plaza outside the Stratton Student Center. There members of the group discussed the day's events and vowed to keep pressure on the administration to divest its holdings in American companies doing business in South Africa. The group disbanded at 3 pm.
A request to be heard
The immediate demand of the demonstrators was the establishment of a formal dialogue between student representatives and administration and Corporation officials.
Demonstrators voiced their frustrations over failed attempts to meet with people they considered influential in MIT's financial affairs. "We're not going to leave until you hear what we're saying," said Christine M. Coffey '93.
Several students held an "impromptu" meeting with Gray several weeks ago after coming to his office with a petition of 1300 signatures demanding divestment be put on the agenda for the Corporation meeting.
Students were dissatisfied with this, claiming Gray refused to meet formally with the coalition, the African Students' Association, and the Black Student Union despite requests, and failed to bring the issue up at the quarterly Corporation meeting.
In an interview yesterday, Gray said he was still willing to hold discussions with students on divestment, but was skeptical about the coalition's willingness to talk about the issue rationally. "I think they are more interested in confrontation," he said.
Gray further stated that he had no authority to bring the issue of divestment to the full Corporation, whose agenda is controlled by the Chairman David S. Saxon '41. He did add, however, that he had brought the issue up at the Corporation meeting in his president's report and that he would also bring it up at either the April or May meeting of the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, which he heads. The executive committee has the authority to make decisions regarding divestment.
Ultimately, the CAA's goal is MIT's total divestment from companies which do business with South Africa. The recent release of South African anti-apartheid activists, including African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, the student demonstrators said, should give MIT even more reason to divest. The pressure on South Africa has worked, and it should continue, they argued. "They feel the pinch," said Ronald W. Francis G.
"We're united here in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in South Africa," said Coffey. "We don't want our name in that muck."
Francis, a prominent member of the coalition, expressed resentment at what he perceived to be the Institute's unwillingness to deal with the issue of divestment since students became concerned with it in 1975. "We want commitment now," said Francis.
The coalition estimates that MIT has $289 million invested in companies involved with South Africa. The Institute's assessment is $103.9 million.
In a press release from the MIT News Office, the discrepancy in figures is explained. "The Coalition Against Apartheid's definition of companies doing business in South Africa includes companies which have withdrawn from South Africa. MIT's definition involves companies which have employees in South Africa."
Gray noted that under MIT's definition, which he claimed has been a consistent one, investments in companies involved with South Africa have declined both nominally and as a percentage of total Institute investments. Under the MIT definition, holdings have declined from 18 percent ($167.8 million) of the total value MIT's investments at the end of 1985 to 6.7 percent ($103.9 million) as of Jan. 31.
Gray blasted CAA's estimates of MIT's holdings and their claims that MIT's holdings have increased: "The assertion of the CAA that MIT has increased its holdings ... is a lie," he said. "What their definition [of involvement in South Africa] is ... escapes me."
Concerning divestment, Gray said he was personally opposed to it. He felt divestment amounted to little more than the transfer of stocks. He said he believed all nine other members of the executive committee shared his views, though he refused to speak for them. "No one thinks divestment is a sensible tactic," he said.
Gray said he supported government sanctions to pressure the South African government. He doubted MIT specifically could have any real economic impact on South Africa, but felt that academically, MIT provides real help by offering scholarships and building contacts with activists.
Security was heavy at every point in the day's demonstrations. At the Sloan building, approximately 15-20 police officers, some in plainclothes and some equipped with riot helmets, eventually prevented entry to the stairwells and the elevator.
Three police forces -- the Campus Police, the MDC, and the Cambridge Police -- had jurisdiction in the area around the President's house and E52, according to Kenneth D. Campbell, director of the MIT News Office. All were present at the demonstrations.
Several students have claimed police officers were abusive and singled out black students for rough treatment. Louise Dunlap, senior lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, said she witnessed police officers pushing black students forcefully into the ground and hitting their heads into the ground.
Dunlap also questioned the need for such a large police presence at the protests. "There wasn't any real reason to call in the police in that way," she said. "There was nothing dangerous happening."
In its issue yesterday, The Thistle ran a story alleging police harassment throughout the day.
Glavin rebuked the charges of racism. "They're totally erroneous," she said. "There was no indication of racism. Students who were blocking the elevator were removed on the basis of their behavior, not their skin color."
"The demonstration had in my opinion, gotten out of hand, and certain individuals were provoking the demonstration beyond the limits of what I considered reasonable, and had progressed to violence," Glavin said.
"Only the beginning"
Richard A. Cowan SM '87, a supporter of the coalition who attended the demonstration, said he was impressed by the amount of interest new students expressed in the protest. He claimed this interest was a positive sign for things to come.
At Sloan, Francis said the coalition would continue its efforts to put pressure on the administration and Corporation. "This is only the beginning," he said.
Steven D. Penn G, another prominent coalition member, said the CAA intends to promote its cause by educating students and community members about apartheid, and resorting to political tactics when addressing the administration. "The goals of the Corporation and the goals of the community are decidedly different [on the issue]," he said.