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Banishing Howitt fails to meet anti-drug goals

(Editor's note: The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to President Charles M. Vest.)

It was with unusual nausea and horror that I read the March 5 edition of The Tech ["COD votes to expel Howitt"]. I believe an enlightened inspection of the Committee on Discipline's action might motivate the committee to rethink its decision, and might alert you to the foolishness of their recommendation.

According to the article, Andrew W. Howitt G has been recommended for expulsion from the Institute, because he had been convicted on charges of possession of a controlled substance, with intent to distribute. Notably, the article fails to mention whether the substance was marijuana, ice, or some drug of intermediate pathology.

Presumably, Howitt is being expelled as punishment for his violation of the Institute's regulations regarding the possession and use of controlled substances on campus. The reasons why society punishes an individual who transgresses its rules are quite clear, traditional and three in number.

First, punishment serves to act as a deterrent. Individuals avoid miscreant behavior because they fear detection and punishment.

If Institute officials wish to deter other resident tutors from possessing controlled substances, I suppose they in their draconian way have done an excellent job.

The question remains unanswered, however, as to why this deterrence is worth a man's career. In this day of anti-drug hysteria, perhaps the bald question "Why do we choose to deter resident tutors from possessing controlled substances?" is too quickly dismissed as already answered.

If the Institute is trying to deter Howitt from possessing or using illicit drugs for his own good, they have clearly killed the patient with the remedy, and should withdraw the "remedy" before the damage they have inflicted is truly fatal.

If they are attempting to prevent undergraduates from gaining access to controlled substances, then we may analyze this further. For the moment, the sole end of deterrence does not appear to justify the means of achieving it -- to wit, destroying Howitt's career.

The second reason for punishment, in this case banishment, we have already suggested. Individuals who violate society's rules are punished by banishment, incarceration, or death in order to protect society from the ravages of those who would break its rules.

Does Howitt's banishment from the MIT community serve this interest? I think quite clearly not. Undergraduates will have the opportunity of buying, making or growing whatever they wish to consume throughout their undergraduate careers, and on throughout the balance of their lives.

The key to fighting drug abuse, be it alcohol, tobacco, or sterner stuff, is to educate the user so that he or she may make an educated choice about drug use. Interdiction, either at a national level or here on campus, is a flawed and costly policy.

Undergraduates, particularly those at MIT, who have by their presence here demonstrated a curiosity and a need for first-hand experiment, will continue to experiment with drugs licit and illicit, and obtain them by whatever means they will, regardless of Howitt's student status.

If MIT truly desires a drug-free campus, then it must suffer the slings and arrows of students educating themselves about drugs firsthand. Howitt's expulsion does nothing to serve the end of protecting the community against the injuries of drug abuse.

The third reason for punishment is traditionally to provide a path for rehabilitation, be it in prison or as an alternative to prison. Again, clearly, banishing Howitt and destroying his career does nothing to rehabilitate him.

It seems now quite clear that the COD's decision meets none of the goals that society sets forth in composing a penal system. The decision to harm Howitt by expulsion benefits no one.

It is a disgrace that the administration chooses to expel Howitt to satisfy itself that it has a coherent policy on drug use and abuse on campus. I urge the COD to rethink its recommendation, and urge you to overturn the decision to expel Howitt.

William H. Fissell IV '92->