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RA Conspiracy Theory: Did MIT Cut a Deal With the District Attorney?

Dan Dunn

On July 1, MIT dropped a logistical bombshell on the alumni of more than 30 Independent Living Groups. They had less than eight weeks to hire Resident Advisers for their houses or face significant consequences. That left eight weeks for search committees, recruitment, legal issues, logistics, finances, and all the other related issues.

MIT administrators had to know that this was a huge pain in the rear. They knew ILGs were going to be angry about the timing, if nothing else. They knew they were going to have to expend significant political capital to soothe everyone involved. So why did they do it now, with so little warning? This has been a question on the lips of administration watchers for the last month.

I think that the available evidence points towards a deal with Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II. MIT, of course, is afraid of prosecution. Martin, as all politicians do, wants to look good. He could press charges against the Institute. But the case would be tough, and he might lose.

But with a deal with MIT, there would be a new scenario. At a press conference later this month (perhaps during rush), he announces indictments against various Phi Gamma Delta undergraduates. He indicts some Fiji alumni. And, with a sweep of his hands, he announces that he has forced MIT to take steps so that this never happens again, or at least not while he is in office.

Let me digress for a bit, eliminating other possibilities. I'll get back to the DA theory later.

Full-time MIT conspiricists argue that the Institute had decided on this move back in December when Vest first announced the pilot program, and the administration simply waited for the community to disperse before releasing the news, thus saving a public battle. I reject this for a few reasons. First of all, MIT showed no signs of planning for the RAs. It refused to pay for more than six houses to do a pilot program back in March; it doesn't have a contract to sign for the RAs, and won't until "mid-August;" the training is still being created and coordinated with the GRT program; and they were clearly unprepared to answer the question of the qualifications of the RA. Second, all reports of when the decision were made point very consistently to a June meeting, with confirming details. And, finally, while I have seen incompetence and wrongheadedness all over the Institute, the times when administrators were simply out to screw students were very rare indeed, if ever.

Some people suspect that the Boston Licensing Board told MIT to take action or it would pull the license of every ILG over which it has jurisdiction. Even if the Board said this, MIT would never believe the threat. While the Board technically has the power, it does not have the right. There are plenty of ILGs out there with clean records who show that it can be done right. Suppose each suspended house put in $10,000 (and many could do 50 times that), and MIT matched the fund - the BLB would quickly back down in the face of a million-dollar war chest and a theft-of-property lawsuit.

We can't skip over the altrusitic theory; maybe MIT is doing this for "the right reasons." What if Chuck, Roz, Joel, and Margaret sat down to lunch one day and Chuck burst into tears? "We can't let another one die," he wailed, "We just can't." The others look to their consciences and agree: action must be taken, and now.

But with such an attack of conscience, one would think reality would also intrude. They would realize that the RA isn't the way to stop such tragedy. Furthermore, MIT is accepting a lot of responsibility (liability) by sponsoring the RA program. MIT can't believe that the RA will reduce its liability.

What about the MIT corporation? Donors? Parents? Did Newsweek, as Roz Williams claims, apply so much pressure that they had to do something, anything at all? For the corporation, or parents, or donors to exert such power, there has to be a buzz. There have to be people from many sources, many places, talking. No one I know has heard such a buzz.

So we come back to the DA. He has the power. He has the motive. MIT has the reason to go along with him. And there are a few other hints.

For instance, when the administration sent out the e-mail announcing the alumni meeting where the bomb was dropped, it was carbon copied to Jeff Swope, MIT's attorney at the legal firm of Palmer and Dodge. Why else would he care?

And then, of course, there is the DA himself. Why else would it take 10 months and counting to reach a decision? There is no new physical evidence, no new, surprise witnesses. He is stalling, and it is not to protect a few undergrads. He is working on the big fish that is MIT. When all the points have been considered, the DA makes the most sense.

The scuttlebutt around the Dean's Office is that every ILG has found its RA. The news is good, and it proves the Dean's point that there is "enough" time to find an RA. But the question of "Why?" continues to echo through the halls of the Institute. Whether it is the DA or not, the students, the alumni, and the faculty deserve a clear and truthful answer to the question.