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Faculty Unsure on Anti-War Walkout

By Lauren E. LeBon


As the prospect of war with Iraq looms, some MIT faculty support anti-war activities but are conflicted about a possible walkout.

On campus, professors are considering participating in the MIT Anti-War Coalition’s walkout by either cancelling or re-scheduling their classes should a war break out.

Today, an advertisement placed by political science professor Joshua Cohen and the staff of MIT’s Boston Review will run in The New York Times. The advertisement includes the signatures of 14,000 intellectuals nationwide, including professors at MIT and Harvard, who oppose the war.

Signatures collected in a few days

Cohen sent an e-mail asking for the signatures of professors around the country to appear in a full-page ad in today’s New York Times. The signatures were collected in the space of a few days, said Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Nancy G. Kanwisher ’80.

The signatures will appear along with a short statement that reads, “Our government is proposing a war against Iraq in the name of American national security. But no compelling evidence has been offered of an imminent threat to our security that would justify the use of military force. A war with Iraq will be a war of choice, not necessity ... But we believe that the decision to wage war at this time is morally unacceptable, and urge our government not to make it.”

Anti-war group talks to faculty

Anne M. Pollack G, the faculty coordinator for the MIT Anti-War Coalition, said that the coalition has been approaching faculty with a letter stating the anti-war position. In addition, the coalition asks professors to cancel or reschedule their classes on the day of the walk-out, or to allow their students to participate in the walk-out without penalty.

“We’re trying to create an environment where people can participate,” Pollack said. “Faculty are at liberty to reschedule their classes.”

Pollack added that some professors who are unable to participate in the walk-out but still support the cause have offered financial support for several rallies.

According to a press statement from the Anti-War Coalition, “dozens of faculty” have endorsed the statement.

Professors consider walkout

Many faculty have mixed feelings about a walkout and have heard little from MIT administrators.

Kanwisher supports the walkouts, but only if the professors have the option to reschedule their classes. She added that during the anti-Vietnam war protests, walkouts were permitted as long as the missed classes were rescheduled.

“I hope that any faculty who can do it will choose to do it, but that they will also reschedule,” Kanwisher said.

“This war is the most dangerous thing the country has done in my lifetime, but we faculty also have a responsibility to our students,” she said.

“I haven’t decided,” said Professor of Mathematics Haynes R. Miller. “I have a responsibility to my students as well as to my conscience.”

Professor of Nuclear Engineering Mujid A. Kazimi is involved in many anti-war groups, but will not participate in the walkout. “I think we can send a signal of our dissatisfaction without disrupting our productive lives,” Kazimi said. “Let’s do the protest outside of this.”

“I’d certainly reschedule things, and I’d make it easier for students to participate,” Miller said. But “I’d find other ways to oppose this political development.”

Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Robert C. O’Handley is also considering walking out. “I’d have to think about it, and the impact it would have. Vietnam certainly impacted my classes,” O’Handley said. “The administration doesn’t seem to care to listen to anyone except for a few close advisors.”

Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Duncan S. Kincaid will participate in the walkout. “It won’t be an issue for me,” said Kincaid, since he does not have classes that conflict with the walk-out.

“I haven’t thought about it,” said Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy Daniel Fox. “I hope that my students participate. ... If the students decide to walk out, I will consider changing the classes, of course.”

Kanwisher, the brain and cognitive sciences professor, travelled to New York City to participate in the large Feb. 15 protests there.

“There are many [faculty] who are involved in anti-war activities of all kinds,” Kanwisher said. “There were eight others on the bus [to New York City] with me.”

Last September, over fifty faculty signed a petition, titled “An Open Letter From The Academic Community Opposing a U.S. Invasion of Iraq.” Kanwisher was involved with putting the petition on the Internet.