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Levitt Attracts $290 to Win Big Screw

By Deena Disreally
Staff Reporter

Although BayBanks, the IRS, and ARA were all candidates, this year's Big Screw winner was Eliot S. Levitt '89, staff associate for residence and campus activities. Voters donated $291.40 in Levitt's name. This year's contest raised $605.90 for AIDS Action of Massachusetts, Levitt's chosen charity.

"A large part of my job is deciding housing assignments, and as long as you're dealing with limited resources, a good part of that job is going to be saying no. ... It's really easy to be notorious when you're the one with two housing requests and you know you can only approve one of them," Levitt said.

"Eliot, he's a really nice guy... it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, but then again, I'm not housed in the undergraduate housing system." said Pascal R. Chesnais SM '88, 1991 Big Screw winner and a research specialist at the Media Laboratory.

Big Screw is named after the trophy presented to the winner, a 3-foot, left-handed aluminum screw. The contest, sponsored by MIT's chapter of the Alpha Phi Omega national service fraternity, lets students choose, at a cost of one penny per vote, the administrator, professor, or staff member "who is deemed the most worthy of this award," said Bridget A. Spitznagel '95, Big Screw project chair.

"The Institute Screw" -- the award's official title -- was last presented to Chesnais in 1991. "So, the truth comes out, I'm really a nice guy, however, that doesn't mean that I'm not disappointed about not winning this year," Chesnais said. "In 1991, I campaigned really hard to get the Big Screw because I thought, `That's a really cool thing to have, I should get that,' " he said.

The contest began in 1967, when APO replaced its Spring Carnival Queen Contest with one awarding a four-foot long, left-handed wood screw to the most deserving faculty member. In 1975, the wooden screw was replaced by the aluminum one that is still used today.

Professor of Mathematics Arthur P. Mattuck was the first recipient of the Big Screw and has won the award two more times, in 1968 and 1986. He is the only person to receive this "honor" more than once. "Mattuck is a good professor," Spitznagel said. "A number of good professors have won it, ones with a strong sense of humor."

Previous winners include deans, professors, house managers, and current chief of campus police Anne P. Glavin.

The Big Screw was not presented in 1992 because APO members could not organize the project.

"This was not the most interesting year for Big Screw, but we did have a few exciting moments," Spitznagel said. One such moment came when friends of Christopher M. Schmandt, a Media Lab principal research scientist and Big Screw candidate, "collected their spare change, about $95, and dumped it into his jar at one time," Spitznagel explained.

An MIT faculty member can become a Big Screw candidate in one of two ways. The person may approach the Big Screw chairperson and ask to be a candidate, or students and other faculty members can deposit $10 in the person's name to make him a write-in candidate. The nominated candidate can be disassociated from the contest if he or she does not wish to participate. In that case, APO will not accept money in that person's name.

"This year, we went to a couple professors who we knew had senses of humor and asked them if they wanted to run," Spitznagel said.

Once a faculty member becomes an official candidate, he must choose a charity. If he wins, all the money collected by the contest will be donated to that charity.

AIDS Action "provides a variety of services to people in the community who are living with HIV. They provide visits, meals, and housing assistance to people with AIDS, and run a hotline for the community," Levitt said.

The screw may be presented to Levitt at the Senior House Steer Roast, held the first weekend in May. Levitt's name will be added to the list of previous winners engraved on the screw's end.