The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 64.0°F | Rain Fog/Mist


Fourth West And 1984

Jed Horne

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Suspicion is confidence?

Orwell himself couldn’t have scripted it better. On Monday, Feb. 4, Fourth West was called to a meeting with Carol Orme-Johnson, assistant dean for student conflict resolution and discipline, and Chief of Police John DiFava to discuss “the situation” which arose when a marijuana plant was found growing in a student’s room during an IAP fire alarm.

I should have known that when deans need assistants and the discovery of marijuana in a student’s room is referred to as “the situation,” I should dust off my copy of 1984 and get prepped for some translating.

The penalty, it was decreed, depends on how willing we are to play ball: unless we as a “community” come together around this issue, establish ourselves as mediators of “the situation,” and discuss further infractions with the proper authorities, the next mistake by anyone will result in a punishment for the entire hall -- possibly including expulsion from MIT housing.

Translated: “Rat on each other. The best way to handle a problem we administrators are unwilling to confront is to sow mistrust and fear. Why use a Band-Aid when an amputation will do?”

So as not to confuse those used to misreading statements, let me state outright: this is not a challenge to the legitimacy of the school’s jurisdiction, or the guilt of anyone involved. What happened was not “an isolated incident,” but the product of a laissez-faire atmosphere and perhaps intentionally lax enforcement of MIT’s otherwise reasonable policy regarding drugs and alcohol.

It is, however, a challenge to the legitimacy of the punishment. And while my hallmates and I may be guilty of the occasional toke or swallow, hypocrisy, it appears, is the special preserve of assistant deans. Here I may be speaking only for myself, but what is wrong with good old-fashioned punishment? It’s not like the administration has any lack of good evidence, or, apparently, any lack of desire to make us feel its wrath. Clearly what had developed was a problem, and, as I think Chief DiFava eloquently attested, the administrators were in no position to just let it slide. The student who was arrested was punished accordingly, so why not apply that standard consistently to further infractions?

We were told, however, that the result “could have been a lot worse.” Punishment is leniency.

A little bit of rational analysis clears up the issue here. Does the administration care about us? The facts suggest otherwise: the aforementioned student had slipped through the cracks of MIT Mental Health, had been caught before, and should have been disciplined earlier. A consistent and coherent administrative response from the git-go would make their stance easier to tolerate now. Instead, I feel like a kulak threatened with a trip to a re-education camp. It’s for my own good, of course.

As I am sure Dean Orme-Johnson must have learned in one of her social work classes, community is based on trust. So are we truly to believe that by spying on each other we are building community? Are we really not being punished by an administrator who has the arrogance to claim that she is allowing us to make decisions for ourselves?

Translated: “We don’t like the way you live. Get with the program and move out before we make you.”

I think I’d easier stomach a fifth of Stolichnaya than those tasty bits of Newspeak.