Baden sets Burton ablaze:
Student charged with setting fire in his own suite
By Joanna Stone
Steven H. Baden '92 was arrested on Friday afternoon and charged with arson after setting a fire that morning in the "Kosher Suite" of Burton-Conner House.
The fire, which began around 6 am, forced an evacuation of the dormitory. No one was seriously injured, although one student was hurt leaving the building, according to the MIT News Office. Several others, including suite members, were treated for smoke inhalation.
Baden, who was a resident of the suite, was charged with the burning of a dwelling. Sources said he confessed to the crime, although neither the MIT Campus Police nor Cambridge Police would confirm this. He was arraigned in Cambridge District Court Friday afternoon.
Sources said that Baden first became suspect when investigators discovered that gasoline had been poured outside all the rooms in the suite except his own. In addition, they said, the room of Baden's neighbor, David E. Borison '91, had been opened, with a spare key left in the lock, at the time the fire was set.
Baden was a desk worker at Burton House and therefore had access to spare room keys. According to a source at the Burton desk, Borison's key had been replaced with an building entry key.
Personal disputes seen
as possible motive
Joe Quinlan, an assistant district attorney for Middlesex County who was present at the arraignment, said that Baden's actions were "a culmination of a dispute of long standing with another resident of the suite." Several sources identified that resident as Borison.
The relationship between Baden and Borison had long been on shaky ground, according to sources close to both parties.
"They [Borison and Baden] quarreled often. It was a clear case of personality conflict," said Shifra S. Teitz '92, president of MIT Hillel. Both Baden and Borison were members of Hillel, and Baden was the organization's president-elect, she said.
Borison, however, did not describe his relationship with Baden as dispute-ridden. "We were friends. We were roommates his freshman, my sophomore year, we've been friends ever since," said Borison. "Yes, we have had quarrels. But all friends quarrel."
A week before the fire, Borison and Baden had a major quarrel that resulted in the suite's stove being broken. According to Borison, the quarrel concerned the standard of "kashrut," or "kosherness," in the kitchen. Borison admitted that this issue had been a constant point of disagreement between Baden and himself.
Teitz said that she and others had been concerned over the level of kashrut in the suite. "There are only two kosher kitchens on campus, and their's was the larger one. Many members of the Jewish community used the suite's kitchen, so there was great concern that a certain degree of kashrut was maintained."
Although the actual point of dispute of kosher kitchen standards had not been resolved, Borison believed he and Baden were back on friendly terms days before the fire occurred.
The Burton Two hall tutor, Pieter M. Pil G, was aware that there had been a quarrel, but did not think there was any direct connection with the subsequent fire.
"Many students quarrel with their suitemates. They don't all then go and set fire to their suites," Pil said.
was a possible factor
Borison believed that the act was not directed at him, and that the fire was not set with the specific intention of hurting anyone in the suite.
"I think he tried to make it look like an Arab-Israeli conflict. I think he took advantage of the war to try and create a situation where he could assume a role of leadership and control within the Jewish community," Borison said.
Earlier that week, Borison's Israeli flag, which hung in the suite, disappeared. It was later found drenched in either turpentine or gasoline, covered in anti-Semitic scrawls.
Borison is now certain that it was Baden who took the flag and was responsible for its desecration. Yet, before Baden's arrest, many within the dormitory and the Jewish community believed both the fire and flag incidents were actions of ethnic bias.
"At first, we thought it was related to the Iraqi attack on Israel the night before," said Pil. "Especially in light of the previous flag incident."
Teitz also believed this at first. "Steve has always been such a strong member of the Jewish community, he was so pro-Israel, it was hard to associate him with anything apparently anti-Semitic," she said.
Associate Dean of Student Affairs Robert M. Randolph was also under this initial impression. "When this case originally broke, our first fear was that it was related to an Arab-Israeli conflict," he said.
"We at first thought we were dealing with one kind of problem -- it turned out we were actually dealing with an entirely other one," said Randolph.
Deans' office aware
of previous problems
This "other" kind of problem, however, was not unknown to Randolph in his role as Dean.
"Steve Baden was known to us [those in the Dean's office]," Randolph said. He would not comment further except to say that he had been aware of Baden's conflicts with Borison since the "fraternity conflict."
Randolph was referring to the reorganization of the MIT chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi last May. Borison is president of the fraternity, and Baden had been elected vice president.
Less than two weeks after his election, Baden resigned because he believed the fraternity's national organization had treated the original MIT chapter poorly and had not used "proper channels" when initiating the reorganization. Baden said at the time he would not be part of "an organization whose behavior I found reprehensible."
Despite the fact that many have expressed knowledge of conflicts between Baden and Borison, Rafael Levin '94, a fellow suitemate, said he was unaware of any such disputes. Levin said there were rarely quarrels between any members of the suite. "Ours was probably the friendliest suite in Burton," he said.
Levin was in his room when the fire broke out. "When we woke up the carpet was in flames," Levin said. The suite members were forced to stay in their rooms until the sprinkler system put out the fire.
According to Levin, "We stayed in our rooms, opened the window, a breeze came in. It was nothing special."
According to Burton Housemaster Julian Beinhart '56, the entire section of the second floor of Burton suffered extensive water damage, along with damage from the fire. He said he could not comment on the cost of the physical damage.
Dates for preliminary
hearings have been set
Baden was released on Friday after bail was set at $50,000 surety or $5,000 cash. The charge of burning of a dwelling provides for a maximum sentence of 20 years in state prison. The date for the pre-trial conference has been set for Feb. 4. Until that date, the judge, Arthur Sherman, has ordered Baden to stay away from the MIT campus.
Baden is reportedly staying at his home in Framingham. He did not return repeated phone calls.
According to Randolph, MIT has not yet taken any official action concerning Baden. The decision of whether or not Baden will be allowed to register for classes for the spring term is still pending, he said.
According to Quinlan, the question of Baden's mental history was not brought up at the arraignment. However, there is a history of concern amongst those close to Baden over his mental stability. And many have said they contribute the fire to Baden's instability.
"I still think of him as a friend," said Borison. "I think he needs help. It's unfortunate he didn't get it earlier. I just hope he gets it now," he said.
Another suitemate reportedly said, "The way I think of it, it was Steve's hands that did it, but it wasn't Steve that did it, not the Steve we know."