Rodger's letter to President Vest
This one goes under the other Rodger letter.
(Editor's note: The following is the text of Tod Rodger's letter to MIT President Charles M. Vest.)
I'm writing to try to express my anger, outrage, sadness and disappointment at the way MIT has failed to respond to the tragic death of our son, Douglas P. Rodger '93. I want to make two points. First, it appears that MIT neither knows nor cares about our son. Second, it appears that MIT is an insensitive and uncaring institution that is willing
to accept student suicides as normal and will probably have many more.
On June 20 my wife returned home to find Douglas' dead body, slumped against the door from the garage, apparently trying to escape into the basement of our home. He died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The hood of his car was up; we didn't know if it was an accident or a suicide.
A friend of ours is a professor at MIT, and he kindly offered
to take care of informing MIT. Shortly thereafter we received
a call from Associate Dean for Student Affairs Robert M. Randolph. Randolph has called several times, and he attended Douglas' memorial service on June 29. If you don't know Randolph, you should. From our perspective, he's one of the few human beings you have in your administration. I have had several phone conversations with Randolph during
the year about medical problems Douglas has had, and Randolph has been most helpful. I have interpreted his recent response as more personal than institutional.
The only other response from MIT was a bunch of flowers sent by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science -- no person's name, just "Department of Electrical Engineering." What an impersonal way to respond to a student's death.
Douglas' death was also reported in the June 26 issue of The Tech. Unfortunately, there was a confusion about exactly how Douglas died, there were confused communications when it was reported to MIT, and The Tech reported it as definitely an accidental death. We have since obtained facts from the police that have convinced us all that his death was suicide. If the suicide of a 20-year-old is not tragic enough, he apparently had changed his mind at the last minute and was trying to escape from the garage.
But my first point to you doesn't depend on whether it was accident or suicide. MIT did not respond. Either no one knows Douglas, or no one cares. Not a single teacher has responded. No teaching assistant or lab assistant has responded. No dean (other than Randolph) has responded. His faculty advisor has not responded.
In contrast to this, six of his former high school teachers came down from New Hampshire and Maine to attend his memorial service, and many others have written. His headmaster wanted to come, but he was in California. Eight of his elementary and middle school teachers and the principal came to the service, and others have called and written. I'm sorry to be so quantitative, but I think it says something loud and clear about MIT: No one knows Douglas, and/or no one cares.
And please don't tell me it's summer, and everyone is scattered. The same is true for these other schools, but they knew Douglas, and they cared. They cared about him, and they cared enough to respond from wherever they were.
Another ray of sunshine in this dark affair has been the response of Douglas' fraternity. I have never been a big fan of fraternities, but the response, support and friendship our family has received from Theta Xi has been overwhelming.
Several of his friends have been out to the house several times, and I have been told that 30-40 of them attended the memorial service -- many traveling long distances to do this. Two of them spoke at the service, and they made a significant and moving impression on all our friends.
Although I was initially very angry at the fraternity, the more I talk with them, the more I realize how helpful and supportive they had been to Douglas all along -- and how shocked, upset and troubled they have been by Douglas' death. I'm disturbed and concerned that they have no adult leadership to care about them on a daily basis at MIT.
I have shared some of my anger and disappointment with several MIT alumni, and no one is surprised. In fact, their biggest surprise was that a suicide and death were reported on the front page of The Tech; they thought it would be buried on page 4. I talked with one of the editors of The Tech; he told me there are five to six student deaths per year at MIT, and probably half of them are suicides. He wasn't sure how much the administration cared.
Several people have told me that MIT has a relatively high suicide rate. Others have confirmed my impressions that MIT cares first about research and its own reputation in the scientific and engineering world, cares somewhat about teaching science and engineering to undergraduates, and cares hardly at all about how students develop as whole human beings.
My second point to you concerns suicide specifically. What is the suicide rate at MIT? How does it compare with other colleges? Do you accept it as normal? If you have experienced the death of someone close, I'm sure you know that anger is one of the natural feelings; and my anger is not limited to MIT.
Please also understand that I am not angry at you personally. I know you are new, and I'm sure you are very busy. I don't expect you to drop everything you are doing just because some undergraduate gets depressed and kills himself.
But as the leader of MIT, you are very visible; and you could have a major impact on making MIT a more sensitive, caring and human place -- if you wanted to. If, the next time someone in
the MIT community commits suicide, you did drop everything
for a day, visit the family, attend the memorial service; it could have a profound impact on the community.
The students would see that someone cares, deans might see what caring means, teachers might see that their role includes more than research and teaching engineering. If you and others did this once or twice, people might get the message that someone cares; and there might be fewer suicides. MIT students are bright; they look around them and see the values that are displayed by the MIT leadership.
Please also understand that I am not blaming MIT for causing Douglas' suicide. But I am very angry at MIT, and I am strongly criticizing MIT for being incredibly insensitive and uncaring. Furthermore, I think one of the many side benefits of being more sensitive, more caring and more human would be fewer suicides.
I am not looking for sympathy cards at this point; I am looking for action. Words will not be adequate; what you do speaks so loud that I can't hear what you say. I hope you will do something for MIT in general and for Theta Xi specifically; and I would appreciate hearing about what you do.
I also want to offer myself to you and MIT if there is any way you think I could be helpful. I would be happy to talk with you or others, I would be happy to talk with groups, or anything else you think could be helpful.
P.S. Your letter arrived after I wrote this, but before I sent it. If your letter were part of an overall caring response from MIT, it might be barely adequate; but it really does nothing more than confirm all my feelings in this letter. Your letter was late, it was ceremonious, and you didn't even spell our name correctly. It really feels like, "Mabel, send this family the `death letter' and let's get on with the real business at hand. And send a copy to Randolph; student deaths are his bailiwick, aren't they?" I hope I'm wrong about you. Please show me I'm wrong, and I will apologize profusely.