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Institute Must Recognize Importance of Identification

Column by A. Arif Husain
Opinion Editor

The cost of an MIT education is by all means immeasurable. An average student will devote four youthful years to this end and will spend close to a $100,000 in the process. Countless sacrifices will be required on the part of students as they struggle to maintain the status of an MIT student. Emotionally, physically, and financially, there are huge investments to be made in pursuit of technical excellence. But what are the returns?

Clearly, there is much to be said about the "mastery of fundamentals, motivation for learning, and intellectual discipline and self-reliance," which MIT seeks to develop in its students in order to foster "a respect for moral values, the duties of citizenship, and the basic human understanding and knowledge required for leadership." At least, this is what I am told in the overview section of the MIT Course Bulletin. Perhaps there is some truth to it. But what I'm getting at here is not philosophy and moral development, but rather recognition. Pure and simple, hardcore recognition.

All intangibles aside, the only real evidence I have of my hard-earned and hard-maintained MIT student status is the MIT Card that bears my likeness. I might cite my Brass Rat as well, but I'm not convinced that I couldn't get one if I weren't a student. Some day I will be fortunate to have a lovely paper diploma as permanent renown, but for now, my heart and soul is pure plastic. At least it was.

Three days ago I received this year's issue of my cherished MIT Card. The font was smaller, and slightly thicker, and the surface was shinier and less scratched; but aside from that it was nearly identical to my old card, save two significant changes. First, it took a friend to point out to me that the expiration date of year "00" was four years away, rather than the usual one year, which seemed to mean that I could claim student status well into my alumnus days. Just as I was pondering the ramifications of this seeming anomaly, it occurred to me that the card no longer even recognized me as a student. The boldface word "STUDENT," which had thus far appeared in the top center of the card, was no longer there. Frankly, I was dumbstruck.

True, it has only been some three years since the inception of the plastic pocket panacea, but attachment takes little time. I racked my wits, trying to understand why the Institute would take away the one small token that distinguished me, physically and tangibly, from the populace at large. Would ink savings be that much? Perhaps the printer charged per letter. Was this the latest casualty of a re-engineering plan gone awry?

There are countless instances which call for student identification, which it seems we all now lack. Aside from a different background color, there is no telling an undergraduate from a staff member or a professor. I doubt that the local vendor who offers a student discount will be privy to this sort of chromatographic distinction. This thoughtlessness, I am afraid, is unacceptable.

The Department of Housing and Food Services claimed that removal of the "STUDENT" tag was a security benefit, although I am unable to fathom how. The MIT Card Office claimed that the expiration date extension would reduce the pressure of producing so many new cards each year. A choice thought, but I'm sure the Registrar's Office, the Bursar's Office, and all of the other offices of the Institute responsible for yearly repetitive chores would enjoy the same work ethic. Both of these explanations seem inadequate and unreasonable.

Personally, my MIT Card has no meal account associated with it, nor do I take advantage of any of its other putative functions. It opens the door to my dorm, and it identifies me as a student. As the situation now stands, I'm getting only 50 percent productivity. Which makes me wonder why my expenses haven't gone down commensurately. There's no telling, but the time is now to take action.

Burn your MIT Card. This injustice requires quick and multilateral support from a unified student body. Burn your cards at once. One and all, share the common flame of a spirited revolt. Burn, burn, burn. Let the heat of combustion warm the cold air of oppression. Know that the twisted goopy mass that lies before you represents a bold statement in MIT life. Burn now and together. Burn, burn, burn.

Revive the social uprising of the '60s. Lower a binding fog of thick chemical fumes on this campus. Let the rising plumes of vapor denote a revolution in progress. But in a shift from the freedom years, Isuggest that one not inhale.

If possible, we should begin a pile-up of card carcasses on the stage area in front of the Student Center. Twelve thousand or so lumps of heat-charred polymer is enough to make a lasting impression on any interested administrator.

This is a serious matter and requires cooperation and organization on all parts. My driver's license identifies me as a driver, as my scuba certification identifies me as a diver. By Joule, my student identification must identify me as a student. Future classes will thank us.