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Former UA President Albert Reflects on Activism, Dissent

By Naveen Sunkavally

Michael Albert, former Undergraduate Association president expelled from the Institute for political reasons months before Kent State broke out in 1970, spoke Friday to reflect on his activism and to encourage student dissent.

Albert started his speech by developing an “intellectual framework” through which he levied a scathing assault on the current capitalist system. “Nice guys finish last,” he said. “I would argue in the United States [that] basically garbage rises. Look around....”

Examples of such garbage include elite institutions such as Harvard University, where, according to Albert, students basically learn who their friends are. “The more educated you are, the stupider you are,” Albert said.

Albert repudiated traditional economics with the statement, “Most of what we’re told by economists is total crap.” He advocated a economic and social system in which members of society are rewarded for “effort and sacrifice,” rather than on an individual’s output.

Albert reflects on life of dissent

Albert spent a good portion of his discussing ways through which he had promoted revolutionary activity in his youth.

Albert said that in 1964, MIT was just as apolitical as it is now. “There were a group of students [from MIT] who would throw rocks at demonstrators [protesting the war]... The others [at MIT] didn’t know there was a war,” he said.

Albert’s political interests were stirred his freshman year, when his brothers at Alpha Epsilon Pi informed him that they had wiretapped and bugged his room during rush to make sure he stayed. During rush in the following summer of 1966, he “sat on a car fender and started telling incoming freshmen what was going on,” which ultimately led to his removal from the fraternity.

A few years later, Albert ran for UA president with a platform that included open admissions, the elimination of requirements and grades, the end of war research; he won, as a write-in candidate, despite a small debate over his status as a registered student.

Following his victory, Albert went on the offensive. Albert said he used his traditional UA address before the alumni to call them essentially the “scourge of the earth.” He and a group he formed led demonstrations against the Institute during meeting to end war research, put up blank posters around campus to gather student input, and painted walls on the Infinite Corridor, which was then completely gray.

Albert said that in 1969 he was expelled for cooked-up charges such as “being at a demonstration where violence took place,” despite a guarantee less than a year earlier from then-Provost Jerome Weisner that he would not be expelled from MIT. Albert said that even the Provost and a dean had been at this demonstration.

Albert now runs a leftist magazine called Z Magazine and is co-founder of South End Press.

Albert encourages dissent

Albert said that the main difference between the sixties and now is that now “nobody is surprised by anything.” Movies like Air America and No Way Out, Albert said, would never have run in the 1950s, but now the messages of such movies have been ingrained in the public consciousness.

“Now, everyone know pain isn’t personal. The thing that’s preventing people from doing anything is hopelessness,” Albert said.

Albert lamented that today’s students often tend to just go their own way rather than pursuing social and moral goals. For example, in the question-and-answer period, Albert pointed to the crisis in Kosovo as a gross injustice on the part of the United States that has only escalated the conflict there.

“I truly believe we can win a better world,” Albert said.