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MIT, Goler Continue To Debate S-P Flag

By Jennifer Krishnan

NEWS AND FEATURES DIRECTOR

An MIT student could be evicted if he continues to hang his flag outside his window.

Jonathan A. Goler G said he came home Tuesday to find his controversial Israeli flag removed from his window with a note from his house manager threatening “disciplinary action” if the flag reappeared outside the window. Goler then put the flag back outside.

Karen A. Nilsson, director of housing operations, told Goler Wednesday that if he continued to ignore the housing office’s instructions to take the flag down, he might be evicted.

“He’s in noncompliance with housing rules and regulations,” Nilsson said. “At this point I have no other alternative.”

“The easier option is for her to do nothing ... which should have been their action all along,” Goler said.

“If they actually evicted me, MIT would obviously be in pretty deep trouble,” he said. “There’s absolutely no way that evicting someone for something as trivial as this is anything remotely reminiscent of fair or just.”

Nilsson and Goler will be meeting today to discuss the matter.

Goler’s flag has been the subject of ongoing controversy since July, when a complaint from a fellow resident of the Sidney-Pacific Graduate Residence called it to administrators’ attention.

Nilsson has said Goler’s flag violates MIT rules and is a fire and safety hazard; Goler says the rule is being applied selectively for political reasons.

Administrators have told Goler on multiple occasions that he should mount the flag on the inside of his room, and he has consistently ignored their instructions.

Nilsson puts eviction on table

Nilsson and Dennis J. Collins, the Sidney-Pacific house manager, as well as other administrators, indicated to Goler at various times that MIT policy forbade him from hanging any item outside his window, including flags, without authorization. Citing fire and safety concerns, as well as aesthetic concerns, they instructed Goler repeatedly to bring his flag inside the window.

Goler said while he does not disagree with these rules, they “clearly do not apply” to his situation, so he did not comply with administrators’ instructions.

Nilsson “directed [Collins] to [remove the flag] when Jonathan missed another deadline for taking it down,” she said. Collins did so on Tuesday morning

When Goler spoke with Nilsson yesterday, Nilsson “verbally threatened me with eviction from MIT housing should I continue to refuse to remove my flag,” Goler said.

“I didn’t threaten him,” Nilsson said. She said she told him that “one of the alternatives I have open to me is a 30-day notice, which is an eviction notice.”

Nilsson said she is running out of options if Goler continues to ignore the housing office’s instructions, but “the situation can end with Jonathan bringing his flag in,” rather than something like eviction, she said.

Eviction is “not something that [the housing office] ever wants to do, [but] there are times that there is no other alternative,” she said.

Collins declined to comment.

Focus shifts to publicity guidelines

While Nilsson’s arguments have been grounded in safety and aesthetics, Collins’ note to Goler referred instead to a publicity guidelines enacted by the Sidney-Pacific house government.

Robert M. Randolph, a senior associate dean for students and the housemaster of Bexley, said the only rule Goler’s flag violates is this policy.

The policy prohibits “posters” hung in public areas, such as the exterior of the building. Sidney-Pacific President Krishnan Sriram G said last month that the policy refers to any publicity materials.

Goler criticized the administration for repeatedly changing its arguments.

“When someone generally throws out a laundry list, they’re obviously trying to throw everything at me and hope that something sticks,” Goler said.

As for the safety issue, a representative of the Cambridge Office of Fire Prevention said that hanging a flag from a window would not be a problem from a safety standpoint.

A flag “really can’t affect the building at all,” he said.

The official added that while a flag was not a fire hazard as long as it was not blocking a window, he did not expect MIT to allow dormitory residents to hang flags “for cosmetic reasons.”

Flags still fly at Bexley

Meanwhile across campus, the policies about hanging items outside of windows is inconsistent.

Jonathan Battat ’05 said he had never been asked to remove the two Israeli flags from his windows at Bexley Hall, nor had any of the other residents of the room who have flown the flag for the past three years.

“I think it’s clear that every administrator at MIT [has] seen those flags and [has] not had a problem with it,” Battat said.

“I’m not aware of any regulation or standard that these flags violate,” he said.

In the past, Nilsson and others have said Battat’s flags went through an approval process.

At EC, flag taken down

However, at East Campus, Jeremy Baskin ’04 was asked to bring his Canadian flag inside his window. In an e-mail to Baskin, Nilsson cited the same reasons she gave Goler.

Baskin said it seemed that prior to the controversy over Goler’s flag, the rules being applied to him and his Canadian flag “didn’t exist or weren’t being enforced.”

Instead, he said, it appeared they “were constructed in the aftermath of a bigoted complaint in another dorm.” The original complaint against Goler’s flag was that the complainant found it offensive.

Administrators have acknowledged the nature of the original complaint, but have said that since they were made aware of the flag, they applied rules as they would have in any other case, citing various student-mounted banners they say were removed for safety reasons.

Nilsson suggests education

In their conversation Wednesday, Nilsson “kept inviting me to direct my energies toward educational ways of publicizing my political opinions,” Goler said.

Nilsson said she suggested organizing such things as “diversity training ... [and] discussions about the Middle East and diversity.”

“I have offered to stand up and do this with him,” she said.

“She really tried to deflect the conversation away from anything relating to the flag itself,” Goler said.

He said she was offering these options “as a substitute for hanging [the flag] out my window,” but “I think they’re beside the point.”

Nilsson also said a display of several flags, including an Israeli flag, was being assembled in the main lobby of Sidney-Pacific.

Jeremy Baskin is an Arts Editor for The Tech.