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Changing MIT's Value System

Guest Column Donald McBride

My son was the roommate of Scott S. Krueger '01. I am deeply saddened by what happened to him and support efforts to put measures in place to avoid similar incidents in the future. However, I am concerned that besides the grief that our students are suffering over the loss of a friend, their efforts to get an education may be further sidetracked for the benefit of some people in the legal and political system, who seem to be more concerned with seeking publicity at the expense of these young men than in addressing the underlying social and cultural values that were the root cause of Scott's death.

The purpose of this column is not to defend Phi Gamma Delta or anything that happened there. Instead, I want to provide some background from my perspective which may help the administration make changes in Institute policies and procedures that will minimize the chances of alcohol-related accidents happening again.

The guys at Phi Gamma Delta are still struggling with their emotions following Scott's death and we appreciate MIT's efforts in helping them cope. At the Parents' Weekend meeting with President Charles M. Vest, many expressed concerns with the Residence and Orientation process. Several parents expressed the concern that students and parents had to make living arrangement decisions with too little information or time. We felt similar frustration last year when our son Thomas had to make that choice. This was a particular concern for my wife who had terminal cancer and knew this might be the last chance she had to have a significant influence on his life.

We raised the issue of alcohol with our son and he reminded us that people didn't go to MIT because it was a party school and, as his mother always reminded him, he knew what he was there for. He shared his criteria for selecting Phi Gamma Delta, which primarily included the quality of the members and the impressive, well-kept house. We felt better after visiting the house, talking to some of the officers and finding that their grade point average was at least the average for MIT.

Fiji did not resemble the stereotype of fraternities my wife and I remembered from our college days. We also found that some problems they had five or six years ago have been corrected, and ultimately decided the R/O process had worked for our son. Several members lived in the Boston area and had more time to research living options. They also selected Phi Gamma Delta because of the character of the members and living environment. As I got to know more of the members who would come to dinner with our son and I on my weekend visits following my wife's death I was impressed with what a responsible bunch of earnest young men they were.

Our opinion was reinforced when I got to talk to many other parents at a dinner hosted by the brothers at 28 Fenway. As we sat around in the well-maintained, wood paneled dining room where former Boston mayors had entertained guests, we all felt that these guys did not deserve to have this happen to them. It could have happened anywhere as it almost did to a friend of mine in a dormitory 30 years ago. It was particularly unfortunate because just a month ago we got a letter from the fraternity's national headquarters asking for support to make all of their houses substance-free in the next few years.

I applaud Vest for recognizing and attempting to wrestle with the problem of social and cultural values that were the root cause of Krueger's death. Although changes in the R/O process may be necessary, the real benefits will be in changing this value system. I believe that the intellect and dedication of the academic community at MIT, as evidenced by their response thus far, can make it a significant impact in this area.

Donald McBride lives in Martinsville, New Jersey. This guest column was also sent as a letter to President Charles M. Vest.