The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 60.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Letters to the Editor

The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to Professor of Chemistry Robert J. Silbey, head of the faculty calendar committee.

For my background: My name's Roy Rasera. I'm a senior double-majoring in Course 3B and Music. I may be staying here for graduate school. I realize this is not a polished letter, please excuse my frankness. I saw in Tuesday's Tech ["Committee Calls for Longer School Year," Apr. 6] that the Institute may be trying to hurt the students again -- this time by lengthening the MIT school year. As a student who has already had to put up with an extension for finals and a cut in the number of holidays over the last 4 years, I would like to voice my outraged opinion that such an extension can only hurt all future students at MIT. The professors will have no easy time with it either. Here are my arguments, based on my interpretation of the information presented in The Tech:

1. The summer will be reduced to 10 weeks. This will render most of the summer co-op and internship programs useless. Being in a co-op program myself and working at Intel the past two summers, I know that major companies are expecting at least 10 weeks of work from their summer students. This would mean flying from your last final to your job, working all summer, and returning to school for Residence/Orientation Week and more work. While such a plan may appeal to the contingent of masochists at MIT, I would have had a nervous breakdown if I were at the grindstone continuously for six consecutive terms and two summers. Certainly such a change would only increase the pressure felt by the students. It would not alleviate the pace of MIT either, but would rather ensure that the pace was continuous throughout the entire year. The only real break is Independent Activities Period, in which many students drive themselves to do yet more work. Hence, for the sanity of the undergraduates who are motivated enough to get a summer job, do not eliminate the extra few summer weeks that can be used for relaxation and recuperation. Is a stressed but relatively sane and happy MIT student better than a wearied, depressed, burnt-out one that had no time to recharge?

2. By lengthening the spring term, Commencement would be pushed back a week. This means it would be in early June. This can pose problems for independent living groups that rent out rooms in their houses during the summer. It is difficult to have someone move into a room in the first week or two of June when eight to 13 seniors are taking up the rooms, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for Commencement. Many houses make the bulk of their Rush money through these room rentals. Pushing back Commencement will push back the move-in date for summer tenants. Similarly, moving R/O Week up in order to lengthen the fall term will force the tenants out of the houses early. In order to make the expected amount of Rush money in a shortened summer, rent would become prohibitively high. These changes will turn away many summer tenants from other schools who are not living under MIT's calendar, and it will thereby reduce the summer income of each house. Please don't make a change so detrimental to the running of independent living groups. After all, if it weren't for them, MIT wouldn't be able to house everyone.

3. So the faculty wants more teaching days. Let's be a little realistic here. We are starting a vicious circle. Undoubtedly, every professor has wished for more teaching time come the end of the term when an exorbitant amount of material remained to be covered. Wouldn't every MIT professor jump at the chance to have just one more week to drive the last topic into the students? Of course they would. So now give them that extra week. Wouldn't every MIT professor jump at the chance to add just one more topic to their class since they now have an extra week? Of course they would. Won't we find ourselves in this same situation a few years from now with a committee deciding to extend each term another few days since the professors will want more time to cover the now-added subject material? Of course we will. That is why we must stop it right now. Thank you for your time. Please don't make the wrong decision. I hope you are not alienated from the student body to the point where you will not be able to hear our cries of outrage.

Roy Rasera '93

Tong's Talk Lacked Substance

On April 6, Shen Tong, the so-called Chinese dissident leader, was invited to speak at MIT by the Lecture Series Committee [April 9, "Chinese Dissident Describes Changes"].

As a member of the audience, I admired my fellow MIT students who showed up that evening. Their presence showed their genuine support for democracy and concern for human rights conditions in China. But as a Chinese student of social science and one who experienced the bloody crackdown, I have to think more deeply.

Why in the audience of about one hundred were there less than a dozen Chinese students from the mainland? At MIT alone, there are approximately 300 mainland Chinese students; in the Boston area, there are perhaps thousands. Who are the constituents of dissidents like Shen? If they are leaders, as they are heralded and pictured by the media of this country, who are their followers?

Nobody will believe today that mainland Chinese students didn't show up because they were afraid of their government. The fact is, they have lost interest in people like Shen Tong. And they have good reasons. The one-hour talk he gave that evening had no substance whatsoever. There were no reflections on why the pro-democracy movement suffered a tragic ending, no lessons learned, and no insights about where the movements should be headed. Instead, there was a lot of clich, empty talk, and radical views that represent the vested interest of a small group of people.

For example, Shen tried to get across his message that human rights conditions have never improved since Deng Xiaoping. He cited the two-time naming of Deng as Time's "Man of the Year" as a sign of the media's ignorance of China's situation. I guess few Chinese students and Western experts on China will accept these. As a matter of fact, it is widely acknowledged that China's open-door policy and reforms have considerably improved people's living standards and loosened government control of many aspects of people's lives in the process. Deng did play a significant role in all this, though he himself is still an authoritarian leader.

It is true that there is much to be desired in terms of human rights conditions in China, but such conditions cannot be ameliorated if the country falls into political chaos and economic disaster. It is not difficult to realize that it is in the interest of such a small group to give as distorted a picture of events in China as possible so that they can reap personal benefits.

By increasingly politicizing themselves, dissidents like Shen Tong isolate themselves from their natural constituency. Probably, they have never been leaders -- they merely talked louder. To me, a true leader has a vision, is dedicated to a cause he believes in, and wins the trust of his constituents, rather than Tong, who tried every means to garner publicity and who irresponsibly contacted underground dissidents, leading to their arrests. There are many Chinese scholars in this country who may not be as "glamorous" as Shen Tong, but are doing serious research on political reform in China. Underlying their savvy and insightful analyses are their true concerns for human rights and the welfare of their countrymen. To those individuals I pay my highest tribute.

What troubles me is not so much the publicity Tong receives per se. My larger concern is that the image he was trying to paint of China might mislead the well-intentioned students and the general public. I felt indignant when I saw how some of my fellow students were cajoled. Tong did not try to clarify the larger picture; he distorted it. If this country's policy toward China is not based on a unbiased perception of the larger picture, but influenced by such a small interest group, it is in the interest of neither the American nor the Chinese people. History shows that America's China policy has been full of confusion. Isolation and antagonism have done harm to both sides. Only by constructive engagement can America fully exert its due influence on China. For Americans who intend to explore the huge market there, engagement will gain them entry. For those who are genuinely concerned with human rights conditions in the country, positive engagement can bring about desired results, as it has in the past.

Zhizhong Yang G