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Summit Draws Industry, Government Leaders

By Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief

Industry leaders, academics, and government officials converged on Cambridge yesterday for a weekend of discussions on industrial development, billed as the Industry Summit.

The summit, organized by the World Economic Forum and MIT, has brought more than 650 corporate and government leaders from over 50 countries to attend working sessions in 11 different areas of industry.

Missing from this group will be several of the biggest names scheduled to attend the summit. At the last minute, United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali canceled his speaking engagement at Sunday's closing session. President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore also could not attend because they were travelling to promote Gore's new plan for government and bureaucratic reform.

The guest list nevertheless remains impressive; U.S. government leaders include Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld, Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), and Frederico Pena, secretary of transportation.

As summit attendees gathered in Kresge Auditorium yesterday, a small group demonstrated on the steps of the Student Center to protest the narrow focus of discussion and the elite group in attendance.

Mel King, adjunct professor of urban studies and planning, read a statement from the entire group: "As members of the MIT community, we are concerned that the world Industry Summit about to take place in our midst reflects neither the actual range of expertise at the Institute nor the commitment many of us feel to social welfare."

Summit scheduled over weekend

The summit began last night with the first of three plenary sessions, chaired by Vest and Klaus Schwab, founder and president of the WEF. Private working sessions will be held this morning at Harvard University and sessions with limited public access will occur in the afternoon.

Plenary sessions on ecological goverance and the effects of the technologygap between industrial and less developed nations will be held at MIT on Saturday and Sunday mornings, respectively.

Summit attendees will participate in programs for one of 11 separate industries: automotive, energy, engineering and construction, financial services, food and agriculture, health, information technologies, media and communication, mining and metals, textile trade, and transportation and logistics.

A few seats for sessions on Friday and Saturday afternoon have been reserved for the MIT and Harvard communities. Each session will have either five seats or five percent of the total capacity set aside, whichever is larger. The seats will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Entrance badges will be available at Sever Hall for Harvard sessions and on the third floor of the Student Center for MIT sessions.

Summit seeks academic dimension

The Industry Summit is part of the Institute's continuing effort to shiftresearch focus to the post-cold war era.

"By providing opportunities for new and renewed intellectual dialogue between our faculty and corporate leaders, this meeting will help to ground our relevant teaching and research programs with the world of practice, and will reinforce our rapidly emerging strength in the industrial sector and our long tradition of cross-disciplinary and policy-oriented scholarship," Vest said in a statement in Tech Talk.

The first industry summit was held in Davos, Switzerland, home of the WEF, in 1991. The summits -- and the sectors of industry represented -- have grown each year since then.

"Because they were so successful, we felt we should give them an additional distinctive dimension by holding this industry summit in Cambridge, in partnership with MIT, and in collaboratoin with Harvard," Schwab said. "In such a way, we can give the essentially policy-oriented discussions in Davos a second essential dimension: a much more in-depth look at the underlying technological forces which drive industry today."

Many MIT departments contributed to the summit. Fred Moavenzadeh, professor of civil and environmental engineering, headed a team of 30 faculty members who assisted in planning the program. Many of the Institute's most prestigious faculty will participate, ranging from Professor Lester Thurow, former dean of the Sloan School of Management, to artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin L. Minsky, professor of media arts and sciences, to Institute Professor Mildred Dresselhaus.

Protesters concerned about elitism

As rain clouds gathered over Kresge Oval yesterday afternoon, King and five other community members criticized the organization of the Industry Summit for failing to address fairly the broad social impact of industry and technology.

"We believe that we have a responsibility not only to government and corporate leaders, but to leaders of employee associations, unions, consumer groups, youth groups, community associations, and organizations protecting civil rights, women's interestes, public education, and the environment," King said in the statement.

Theresa A. Tobin, humanities librarian, echoed the concern that the summit comprised a too limited cross-section of the world's peoples to address problems of wide concern. "I am dismayed; I am distressed, and I am disappointed, that my institution has chosen to lend its prestige, its influence, and some of its intellectual resources to such an elitist approach to the solution of the grave economic and social problems in our ever changing world," she said.

The speakers also included Vera Kistiakowsky, professor of physics, Jonathan King, professor of biology, Alan Shihadeh G, and David Slaney, a local leader of the United Steelworkers Union. A small group of onlookers and supporters, which numbered in the teens when the protest began, grew to at least 70 by the protest's end.

The protesters largely agreed that MIT and the world must face problems caused by the passing of the cold war and the economic policies it engendered. They argued, however, that larger segments of the community should be involved in the discussions of these problems.

"There has been a greening at MIT. A turning to environmental and social issues, but it does not involve a large fraction of the Institute. There is much more that the Institute could contribute to the solution of the problems that this country faces," Kistiakowsky said.

Slaney criticized the efforts of the industry and government leaders more strongly than the other speakers. "We should all be extremely worried when these people get together to plan anything. They put profits before justice, profits before the environment -- and before people," he said.

Slaney also disparaged the summit for not including representatives from labor. Few representatives of labor groups are attending the summit, but they are present. They include Lynn R. Williams, president of the United Steelworkers of America.