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Hove Misses Mark in His Criticism of Institvte Foundation

Guest column by John S. Hollywood

To an extent, we are grateful to Anders Hove for his surprise attack on the Institvte Foundation ["Institvte Lacks Credibility to Represent Student Affairs," Aug. 22]. We have run, with limited success, a series of publicity campaigns to try to introduce Institvte to the MIT community. With one column, Hove has introduced Institvte to the community as a whole. Of course, we would have preferred that our introduction be under better circumstances.

With that in mind - Hello. My name is John S. Hollywood G, and I am the president of the Institvte Foundation of MIT. We are a service group whose purpose is to provide students and the entire MIT community with information they can use to understand what's going on at MIT and to gain more control over their lives and over what happens at MIT in general.

We currently offer two services. The first, the student resource service, is a network of students who help other students find the MIT resources they need to get problems solved. We have about 20 members, and our "Quick Guides" to MIT resources are distributed through student-service offices. The second, Institvte, is an e-mail journal that gives the MIT community information about issues that affect students. We do give specific attention to what goes on "behind the closed doors" of MIT's administrative and faculty processes, so that students (and the MIT community in general) won't be left in the dark on what Hove's "Building 7 Bigwigs" are doing.

Unfortunately, Hove apparently has decided that the e-mail journal represents a threat to students on campus, and attacked us with a column that contains a series of misrepresentations and untruths. One of MIT's most important principles is that students should think for themselves. Don't let us - or Hove, for that matter - tell you what to believe. With that in mind, we'll look at Hove's charges one at at time.

Coverage. Hove attacks us for heavily covering administrative business and focusing on student life issues. Now, he is correct to say that our coverage does tend to focus on student life issues. That is because that is what gets sent to us, and what we have access to.

Because Institvte is a volunteer service group, whose members are involved with many other activities, we are unable to do the same level of search reporting that we might want to do. Consequently, we are dependent on information that we hear about. We have asked our readers repeatedly to send in any information on student issues - especially on things that academic affairs and that student groups are doing. Hove is welcome to help us find stories about interesting things that students are doing. We would greatly appreciate being able to run them.

As far as the fact that we have a large focus on administrators, Institute committees, and other "campus improvement efforts" - we plead guilty as charged. We try to supplement things that other publications don't cover. For whatever reason, this has meant covering these efforts before they lock their decisions into concrete.

We believe that allowing students to see what these groups are thinking about, and giving them the information on how to influence the processes (all these articles include information on how to reach these efforts) gives students unparalleled control over projects that could affect their lives. Honestly, we are surprised that other publications do not run similar articles.

Conflict of interest. Hove accuses sources of writing articles. To save time, let me say that this is absolutely true. We routinely block copy report results, proposals, and administrative memoranda directly into our news section. Further, we're proud of it. Remember, a big part of Institvte's mission is to let you know what MIT's various administrative efforts are doing that could affect your life. Now, who is in the best position to tell you what an effort is thinking about doing to your life: a reporter or columnist, or the members of the effort themselves? We believe that you should see the clearest representation of the facts as possible and going straight to the primary sources is the best way to do it.

Anonymity. Hove attacks us for not signing articles and not having a masthead. We admit that we should have signed articles from the beginning, but this error was pointed out months ago, and we've been signing them since then. (Note that unsigned editorials represent the consensus of the Institvte staff, just like The Tech's editorials). As for the masthead with our staff - it's printed at the bottom of every e-mail issue. It is quite large; we are surprised Hove missed it.

Editorial Policy. Hove implies that we slant our editorials in favor of the administration. Interestingly enough, he doesn't mention any specifically. Since he won't give you examples, we will. We've run articles calling for embargoed surveys to be released, holding off on a $280 parking fee hike, and urging that reports by students and others not be thrown into a file cabinet and ignored. We've also proposed detailed plans on how to end dormitory overcrowding and how MIT can support student leadership. Not much kowtowing here.

Now, it is true that we spend a great deal of time on our editorials - we check our facts and arguments carefully. We even vet them to others to ask them for their opinions and to check facts before we run them. Concerning topics, we do try to be constructive - we try to share ideas to help improve campus life rather than break things and ream people. We also try to treat everyone with respect in our editorials; flames, obscenities, and ad hominem attacks are things you won't find in our Analysis section. If that makes us lackies, then I suppose we have no defense.

"The be-all and end-all." Hove accuses us of presenting ourselves as the be-all and end-all of MIT student affairs. This is not true. Our statements say simply that we try to provide useful information on developments that could affect students' lives, with a special emphasis on what's going on behind closed doors. And, as stated, our own editorials have admitted that our coverage is far from flawless and have asked for help in improving coverage.

Similarly, Hove implies that we misrepresent ourselves as the voice of the student body. We have never made such a claim. There is only one voice of the students, and that is the students themselves. Period. The only time we ever claim to represent the students on something is when we have survey or referendum data to back it up.

Everything else is presented as the opinions of the editorial writers themselves. If our editorials are influential, it is because they are well-researched and logical.

Hove threw a lot of charges at us, and I probably missed some of the minor ones, but I hope I have clarified things a little. As I said, though, don't take our words for it; check out Institvte for yourself, and see what you think.

One final note: Hove makes the claim "that anyone holding the belief that students have power and influence, or that they ought to have more power to manage their own lives, would find scant evidence in Institvte." We disagree. Most of the efforts we cover are joint administration-faculty-student efforts. It's hard to see how students aren't involved there. The worlds of students and administrators are not separate; rather (as common sense tells us) students are profoundly affected by administrative decisions. One of our major goals is to let students (and the entire community) know what improvement efforts are going on that could affect their lives and how students can get involved with them. We believe that knowledge is one of the best paths to empowerment. We are deeply saddened if Hove does not agree.