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Students Plan Series of Events To Protest Wolfensohn Address

By Brian Loux


After some debate with the MIT administration over logistics and planning, Students for a Democratic Commencement will host several events before graduation day designed to inform the MIT community about the World Bank. James D. Wolfensohn, president of the bank, will give the keynote address June 7.

The events on the eve of commencement will begin with a showing of the movie “Life and Debt,” which focuses on “the stories of individual Jamaicans whose strategies for survival and parameters of day-to-day existence are determined by the U.S. and other foreign economic agendas,” according to the film’s Web site.

The director of the movie, Stephanie Black, will be on hand to discuss the movie and her experiences making it. “She is accepting to forego her honorarium because she just wants to be here,” SDC member Julia K. Steinberger G said.

The evening will finish with a concert from Grammy-winning reggae artist Yami Bolo, who appears in the movie.

“In essence, seniors have a choice: they can go to the [Boston] Pops or listen to some reggae. I guess we will each draw different crowds,” Steinberger said.

The event will begin at 7:00 p.m. in 54-100, but since seating is so limited, organizers are advising spectators to arrive at 6:00 p.m. to assure a seat.

In addition, a five-member organizing committee will select by lottery 20 students to participate in a closed discussion with Wolfensohn prior to commencement. The lottery will be held at 1:00 p.m. Thursday in the Student Center.

Logistics reduce event size

SDC faced what Steinberger called “some unpleasantness” during the planning of the events.

SDC had initially hoped to host the movie, talk, and concert on Steinbrenner field, and the use of the field was approved by MIT Athletic Facilities. However, Stephen D. Immerman, director of enterprise services and an integral coordinator of commencement along with other administrators, wanted to stop the event for logistical reasons.

“My only objection was that it required a massive allocation of staff,” Immerman said. “The proposal was for an outdoor concert, but our police forces were already staffed for the next day.”

Steinberger and SDC member Brice C. Smith G attempted to compromise by offering to hire an outside security company for the event. However, outside security did not satisfy the concerns of the administrators.

“The problem is that there had to have been some commitment of MIT staff,” Immerman said. “We rarely want people not familiar with our system. To be honest, they don’t always have the same care and concerns that your own people do. We couldn’t leave it to chance.”

Other administrators came to the defense of the idea of the event, including Special Assistant to the President and Chancellor Kirk D. Kolenbrander, who had previously worked to plan the forum with Wolfensohn. Steinberger said that she was “very pleased” to see administrators do so.

Both sides acknowledged the lack of political influence in the decision. “It would have been a major commitment we would not have been able to do. It would have applied to anybody, not just them,” Immerman said.

Steinberger agreed. “This was more of a logistics concern than a political concern ... . We convinced them that it wasn’t going to be too much work for them. Our decision to have this a day before commencement was a political decision.”

After a round of discussion, the parties agreed to hold the event in 54-100, which seats approximately 300 people.

Because the event is free and in a small venue, MIT Police will not have to be present to protect collected money, operate metal detectors, or disperse loitering crowds.

Steinberger was pleased with the result. “At first, they didn’t want to have the event at all, so we managed to work from that,” she said.

“MIT has the reputation of being an open campus and we were pleased to see it was adhered to,” she said.

Other students found the compromise to be unfair to the SDC. “[Room] 54-100 is really small,” said Priya Agrawal ’04. “That’s almost rubbing it out of existence as a large event.”

“It’s not too bad,” said Phong D. Ngo ’02, member of the a capella group The Toons, which has performed in 54-100 frequently. “The acoustics aren’t the greatest and it’s not designed to be a concert hall, but I think it can be pulled off.”

Students selected by lottery

The committee will officially select by lottery the 20 students who will be able to debate with Wolfensohn before commencement.

“We hope to have an impartial judiciary, possibly someone from The Tech, to oversee the process so there is no criticism,” Steinberger said.

The lottery is open to graduate and undergraduate students only. Wolfensohn’s representatives asked that he debate with those who had the “potential of graduating.”

“We’ve had to turn away a few people because of that,” Steinberger said.

Approximately 30 people representing student groups have requested to be part of the panel discussion. Students can write to until Thursday to request inclusion in the lottery.

Details of panel to be finalized

Representatives of SDC will also meet with Kolenbrander this week to determine who will moderate the Wolfensohn discussion and what press from The Tech will be allowed.

“I think there can be a reporter allowed, we don’t know about a photographer,” Steinberger said. “Important people are just afraid to say stupid things on camera. They told us they didn’t want cameras ‘to make the students feel more comfortable.’ I don’t understand that at all.”

Organizers agreed that Wolfensohn would be accompanied on campus at all times by a person ranking no lower than Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75. It was presumed that because of this, Clay would then moderate the forum. SDC hopes that there will be a student moderator. “We are hoping that there can be a shared moderator role or Clay can stay in the room during the discussion.”

The room and exact time for the forum is still undecided, though both MIT and SDC did decide that the event will not prohibit people from attending commencement.

Forum to discuss World Bank

The Technology and Culture Forum will also sponsor a panel discussion on May 28. The panel will consist of William Fisher of Clark University, Devesh Kapur of Harvard University, and Njoki Njehu, a public policy specialist, three critics of the World Bank. Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Balakrishnan Rajagopal will moderate the discussion.

“I’m delighted that TCF is hosting the event,” Kolenbrander said. “I hope they do well, as I know it’s hard to publicize an event after finals.”

The panel was organized by Episcopal chaplain and TCF coordinator Reverend Amy McReath.

“I am pleased with the array of options that are available,” Kolenbrander said. “It is important to have opportunities to hear from different perspectives.”