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MIT wrong to crack down

Part of the function of a university is to foster an understanding of the role of debate and protest in democratic society. MIT failed in that aspect of its mission when it arrested 23 of its own students at Friday's pro-divestment rally and six others at Monday's rally.

On Friday, the students had erected a small shanty in a roped-off section of lawn near the Student Center. The shanty was meant to symbolize the students' solidarity with South African blacks and to be a focal point of campus discussion on the divestment issue. The structure was not obstructing normal activities, nor did it pose a threat to safety. What it did do was provide a legitimate way for the students to express their opposition to MIT's investments in companies doing business in South Africa. In erecting the shanty, the students were acting within the best of America's democratic traditions.

In arresting the students and tearing down the shanty, the administration showed that it needs a lesson in how democracy operates. True, the students had not asked permission before going ahead with their protest, but the structure created nothing more than an inconvenience. It would have been a small matter for MIT to allow the demonstration to proceed unhindered. As an educational institution, MIT has a responsibility to protect and encourage political debate, especially when its own students are involved.

But it was not only demonstrators who were the victims of MIT's police action. In an almost random act of aggression, Metropolitan District Commission Police arrested Sean M. Dougherty '93, a Tech photographer who was covering yesterday's demonstration. Arresting members of the media who are gathering information is absolutely deplorable and should shock everyone in this community. The arrest by the MDC was imprudent as well, for it reignited a demonstration which was breaking up. Confrontations like this are almost inevitable when an institution views force and arrests as its first line of defense from student protests.

Reacting to legitimate, peaceful protest with arrests undermines MIT's position as a institution of learning and damages the trust that should exist between the administration and the student body. The more violent and capricious reaction to yesterday's rally has exacerbated students' alienation and further dimmed the prospects for a reasoned discourse on the matter. Students feel betrayed, and rightly so.