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Students do have rights

To the Wiesner Awards Committee:

I was delighted to receive a Laya and Jerome B. Wiesner Award at yesterday's Awards Convocation in connection with my founding and administration of MIT's discount ticket service, The Tech Performing Arts Series, and my arts writing -- mainly for The Tech, but also for Technology Review and the Christian Science Monitor.

I feel deeply honored, and grateful to the awards committee for selecting me. I cannot say, furthermore, how much I appreciated Dr. Wiesner's presence at the ceremony. He has been quite unwell lately, and in considerable pain. I know he wished to present the award himself, but was unable to due to ill-health. I was sorry to hear, also, that Mrs. Wiesner has been unwell. I wish both these beloved members of our community the very best in quickly recovering.

When I first heard that I had been nominated for this award, I started thinking of the opportunity it might present to make a statement, to say a few of the things I have learned during my lengthy love/hate relationship with MIT and, above all, to do something positive before I leave.

First of all, I could not have this award without all the wonderful musicians, actors and other artists who so plentifully populate this campus. It takes far more talent and effort to put on an artistic performance than it does to scratch out a review. Their creative contribution is immense and of far greater significance than mine: I'd like to let them know that even if I have sometimes given them a less than positive review -- part of a critic's job whether one likes it or not -- they have enriched my stay at MIT and are very much appreciated.

Secondly, I could not have this award without the efforts of a large number of devoted people at both The Tech and the Technology Community Association. Any time I write an article, it has to be edited, proofed, typeset and pasted down. Peter Dunn and Debby Levinson have been two particularly hard-working and supportive members of the arts editorial staff. I have also worked with several editors in chief -- Niraj Desai and Prabhat Mehta being the most recent -- who are willing to labor night and day, somehow getting their problem sets done at the edges between day and night -- to produce the newspaper to the best of their abilities. Not least, recognition should go to those invisible, but crucial members of Tech staff, the production workers, who make sure the paper actually appears.

With respect to The Tech Performing Arts Series credit must go to the entire Tech board, which approved the provision of free publicity for promoters willing to provide affordable tickets for MIT students. The Tech depends for its existence on advertising revenue, and has lost income from several promoters who previously paid for their advertising, and now get it for free. The commitment of everyone at The Tech to make this sacrifice for the benefit of their fellow students should be acknowledged.

The tickets for our discount program could not have been sold without the massive help of the Technology Community Association. Their unpaid members staff the desk from which tickets are sold, and carry out logging, payment and other administrative tasks to boot. Here, as well, a strong service ethic is visible; here as well we see the human side of MIT students: not technocratic nerds, but generous-minded people who want to make a contribution to the community. My appreciation goes to all the students at The Tech, the Technology Community Association and in the arts community at large. This award is surely theirs as much as it is mine.

I also acknowledge the contribution of my editors at Technology Review and the Christian Science Monitor, and of the MIT Office of the Arts, which helped out by selling hundreds of tickets to Madama Butterfly to a horde of students sprawling across the lobby of the building which honors Dr. Wiesner's name; and I also thank the artistic organizations which have participated in The Tech Performing Arts Series for their involvement.

This award also provides a unique opportunity to respond not only to an event which happened last year, but to send a message to the community as a whole about out obligations to each other. Last year I was involved in a controversy with a particular unit of MIT over a financial matter. I argued that I was entitled to a certain payment according to MIT's own regulations and, following a bitter dispute, received the payment I had requested. During the course of the dispute and discussions with numerous MIT faculty and officials, I found some who were extremely sympathetic and helpful, and others who told me things such as that "students have no rights," and that I would suffer recriminations if I pursued MIT's own grievance procedure.

I said that I was taking action out of principle as much as for the money, the principle being that MIT students do have rights, and should be treated at least as well as is stipulated by MIT regulations. I was laughed at and told I was only in it for the money. Now, I think I can show that I was in it for the principle, with cash which is mine to use freely as I wish. If that minority of faculty and staff who might under duress not accord their students all of their rights appreciate what I am now doing, can I ask them in future to think twice before treating their students unfairly. Students are MIT's most precious charge, and are entitled to respect, whether in their relations with MIT on academic, financial, or employment matters or in exercise of their legal rights to freely express their opinions or seek redress on whatever topic concerns them, ranging from the conduct of their education to whether their university should have investments in apartheid.

For all these reasons, I would like to share my award with all those cited above. I therefore asked not to receive a check at the awards ceremony yesterday, but requested that two other checks be written as follows. SinfoNova, one of the most enthusiastic participants in The Tech Performing Arts Series, is currently in deep financial trouble and at risk of going out of existence. SinfoNova Music Director Aram Gharabekian has told me how thrilled he was to get 140 subscribers from MIT, the single largest group of subscribers the orchestra has. He likes to have younger people in the audience; he's told me that in an ideal world he'd like to let them in for free. I would like MIT students to be able to continue to enjoy the orchestra's work at the discount prices SinfoNova kindly offers. SinfoNova has launched an appeal, "A farewell or a new beginning." I have requested that $250 be sent to the appeal.

I've asked for the remaining $750 to be remitted to the National Scholarship Fund of the MIT Alumni Association, an account which is not part of the endowment, but which directly provides student financial aid.


Jonathan Richmond is a graduate student in the Department of Civil Engineering and a Contributing Editor at The Tech.