The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 45.0°F | Overcast

Wolfensohn to Deliver Address to Graduates

By Kevin R. Lang


The annual tuition riot is nothing new to MIT, but this year could potentially see a Commencement riot. World Bank Group President James D. Wolfensohn will address the Class of 2002 at commencement this year.

“Jim Wolfensohn is deeply and thoughtfully engaged in important core issues of our times -- fighting poverty, promoting inclusion, enhancing education, and shaping globalization,” said President Charles M. Vest in a statement yesterday. “He occupies a unique position at the intersection of the private and public sectors. His concerns have particular relevance to the world of 2002.”

Wolfensohn selected by Vest

Last fall, Class of 2002 President Sudeb C. Dalai and Graduate Student Council President Dilan A. Seneviratne each generated a list of 10 to 15 possible Commencement speakers. They then met with the Commencement committee, chaired by W. Eric Grimson, a professor in electrical engineering and computer science.

“We talked about the list that we as students had generated, and based on those we then finalized to a list of about ten people total,” Dalai said. This list was then presented to Vest, who made the final selection.

However, Dalai said that Wolfensohn was not one of those recommended to Vest.

“He was not on that list,” Dalai said. “I don’t think we chose anybody from the World Bank.”

Dalai did say that the committee considered a number of possible speakers involved in international affairs, especially related to world peace.

“Once we submit our condensed list to President Vest, we’re kind of hands off,” Dalai said. “I didn’t know that [Wolfensohn] was even being considered.”

Vest said that he considered not only the recommendations of the committee but also past recommendations and “unsolicited recommendations from the MIT community.” Also, Vest said, the availability of speakers played an important role in the decision.

MIT not concerned about protests

Dalai said that the committee considered the reception each potential speaker might get, hoping to avoid speakers who might be heckled or protested by students. He said he was concerned about the possibility of protests from the greater Boston community, but he did not think MIT students would actively protest during Commencement.

“I’m not really concerned about the MIT community demonstrating against him,” Dalai said. “I’m very excited to have him.”

“I think he’s an excellent choice,” Seneviratne said. “I think he will be an interesting speaker.”

Seneviratne said he did not expect much in the way of protests. “I don’t think it should be a potential problem.”

“MIT has hosted many prominent world leaders whose views, countries or organizations may elicit a wide range of opinions,” Vest said. “They have been treated respectfully by our community and we have maintained appropriate security. That will be the case at Commencement this year.”

Students have mixed response

While some students will almost certainly be protesting Wolfensohn’s speech, others thought he was a good choice for the Commencement address.

“I think it’s terrible and I’m really embarrassed that MIT chose him,” said Corrina C. Chase ’02. “The World Bank has done a lot of really terrible things.” She said she expected students to protest during Commencement.

“I can promise you that at least 20 people will be protesting during Commencement,” Chase said. However, she added, “it won’t be an organized protest.”

“I think that’s pretty damn cool,” said Iahn Cajigas ’02. “I think it’s pretty controversial. It’ll be interesting to hear what he has to say.”

Eli J. Weinberg ’02 said he did not think MIT students would protest, but he thought others from Boston and Cambridge might. “I think they could have found someone that would be a bit more agreeable,” Cajigas said. “We don’t need the potential for rioting.”

Weinberg said he would still be interested to hear Wolfensohn speak, but not necessarily for Commencement. “I’d love to hear a speech from the guy,” Weinberg said.

Sanjay Basu ’02, president of United Trauma Relief, called Vest’s choice of Wolfensohn “a remarkably ignorant decision.”

“I think Commencement is supposed to be a time to celebrate,” Basu said. “But we’re going to be listening to tear gas canisters popping instead of hearing ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’”

Wolfensohn joined bank in 1995

Wolfensohn has been World Bank president since 1995. He also serves as chairman of the board of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. He has received honorary degrees from Brown University, George Washington University, Michigan State University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Prior to joining the World Bank, Wolfensohn was president and chief executive officer of his own investment firm, and previously held senior positions with several banking firms. He was awarded an Honorary Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995 for his contribution to the arts.

A native of Australia, Wolfensohn holds BA and LLB degrees from the University of Sydney. He earned an MBA from Harvard business school in 1959.

Last year’s Commencement speak was NASA Chief Daniel S. Goldin, and Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly S. Fiorina SM ’89 addressed the Class of 2000. Then-President William Jefferson Clinton spoke at Commencement in 1998.