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Ticket Trade Website Shut Down by MIT

By Anna K. Benefiel

A Commencement ticket trading website developed by the Class of 1999 officers was shut down late last week in response to an email from stopit@mit authorities charging the site with violating Athena Rules of Use by using MITnet for financial gain.

Intended to facilitate the trading of tickets as a means of optimizing the ticket distribution process, the site was used by dozens of seniors to post notices about ticket availability and demand. The Institute gives a limit of four free guest tickets to each graduate in the ceremony.

Grimson responsible for shutdown

Chair of the Commencement Committee and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80 contacted Information Systems shortly after discovering the existence of this website, used by graduating seniors to buy, sell, and trade Commencement tickets. Information Systems in turn issued the warning to the class officers.

“The view of the commencement committee is that we certainly encourage students to help out their colleagues,” by donating extra tickets, Grimson said. “We understand that there is a black market on Commencement tickets, we are just trying to discourage it,” he said.

Subsequently Eladio C. Arvelo ’99, Senior Class Secretary and maintainer of the website, disabled the page. However, class officers question the validity of the claim that the website violated Athena Rules of Use, and other seniors are upset that the website was disabled.

According to Pooja Shukla ’99, Class of 1999 President, the intent behind the website was to “set up an area where people could post” messages about tickets but the Class of 1999 had hoped that people would use the forum for free “exchange of tickets” rather than the “sale of them.”

The class developed the interactive trading site, patterned after a similar website hosted by the Class of 1998 webpage still running , as a means of “addressing the needs” and “multiple requests” of the graduating class regarding a more convenient, equitable system of ticket distribution, according to Shuja U. Keen ’99, Treasurer and now Alumni President of the Class of 1999.

Although the site was advertised in an email sent to seniors almost two months ago as a place to “buy, sell, or trade” Commencement tickets, the site was meant to be “like an electronic bulletin board” to “match buyers and sellers” of tickets.

Students, having seen posters advertising commencement tickets priced as high as $150 to $200 in previous years, expected to see messages posted to the site asking to exchange money for tickets, but Commencement Committee members were alarmed by the idea of graduation ticket sales being dealt with via a class website.

Commercial gain from tickets “violated both the spirit and the intent of the [graduation] ceremony,” Grimson said.

A USA Today article published on May 27 may have heightened the anxiety of Commencement organizers, by highlighting the “entrepreneurial” spirit of MIT graduates as evidenced by the webpage ticket exchange.

Students disapprove of shutdown

Steven F. Shapiro ’99, interviewed by USA Today and WHDH Channel 7 News, was surprised to hear that the electronic site had been removed. He said the site “was a good idea” that made obtaining seven of his eleven extra tickets easier and more convenient” while “cut[ting] out the waiting and uncertainty” of responding to posters on campus.

Class of 1999 officers were also surprised with the response of members of the Commencement Committee. Keen was disappointed that the Committee thought the class was “trying to make money off of [selling tickets],” but he said that he could see the MIT authorities’ “point of view” in worrying about the implications of the site.

“I don’t think tickets should be sold,” Shukla continued, “but that’s my personal view. I have four family members attending Commencement though. If I had seven family members wanting to attend, extra tickets would probably have a different value.”

Mark A. Meier ’99 sold his two tickets informally but hadn’t heard about the website. He charged “ten dollars each,” and when asked why he didn’t charge more, Meier said, “I would never pay $90 for a ticket, so I would never sell one for $90. I’m not really into the free-market economy. It’s all about state control.” Walking down the infinite corridor, posters still lined the bulletin boards advertising the availability and the need for Commencement tickets Thursday evening: “Will pay $100+” said one. But another said, “Graduation Tickets: I Have 4 Tickets, Will Sell Cheap ($20-$25).”

Discussion about establishing an equitable system of ticket distribution typically occurs towards the end of spring term each year, when people realize that the four tickets allotted per walking graduate is not enough, or is too many.

Christopher D. Beland ’99, suggests that in order to avoid the “usual black market season for commencement tickets,” maybe some year the administration will “change its policy with regard to commencement tickets, only giving students the number of tickets they ask for ...up to four” tickets, with the remaining tickets distributed via a Undergraduate Association or Graduate Student Council-run lottery. He says though that people might not be “willing to take chances on a lottery when they know they can buy” commencement tickets.

Jeremy D. Sher ’99, also graduating, says “The blackmarket is disgraceful, but just banning the selling of tickets would drive prices up, which would make the situation worse.” He also suggests making tickets more non-transferrable by printing graduates’ names on them.

However, a system more complicated than the current one would probably “require more work and expense” on the part of MIT, which is why Beland for one doubts the system will change.

Max Davis ’99 says, “Because some people charge money for tickets, the ticket sales become a self-perpetuating system. Many people who have extra tickets then feel like they have to charge money for them as well.” He got his three extra Commencement tickets by trading services with friends for their extra tickets. He helped a friend move this week, and later this summer he’ll take another friend to see Star Wars and fix a third person’s old bike.

At the end of the day, even families that stake out the coveted aisle or center section positions from six in the morning, and sit in the sun for an almost interminable eight hours until Commencement exercises end at around 2:30 p.m., will undoubtedly feel that it has all been worth it.