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Flags and Freedom

Throughout history flags have served as important symbols. Following September 11, American flags flew everywhere as a symbol of national unity. Many consider the right to wear or fly a flag as an extension of a citizen’s constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Yet the issue of flags has recently become a controversial topic on campus following the forced removal of Sidney-Pacific resident Jonathan A. Goler G’s Israeli flag hanging outside the window of his dormitory room. In response to a complaint by a fellow resident, Goler was asked to remove the flag by House Manager Dennis J. Collins. When Goler refused, Karen A. Nilsson, director of housing, suggested that eviction may be a possible course of action. Further developments in this political soap opera have since appeared in The Tech, and the issue has been a hot topic on campus. Goler has since moved his flag to the inside of his window, an action that Nilsson deems an acceptable compromise to what she considers a safety hazard posed by hanging any flag outside of a dormitory window.

While it is obvious that the situation has been clouded with political overtones since day one, the issue at hand is not the politics of Israel, or of Canada (as copycats have recently demonstrated). This incident exemplifies a recurring theme in the way the MIT administration deals with conflicts that often arise on campus -- by reactionary measures that inconsistently change existing rules to provide a “quick-fix.”

Instead of finding rational solutions to the problem at hand, rules across the board are changed to accommodate one particular situation. Given that flags have been flying at Bexley for at least a few years, it is highly doubtful that flags hanging outside of dormitory windows were on the top of MIT’s safety concerns prior to the complaint brought against Goler. Rational heads, clear channels of communication, and effective organization down the chain of command should have prevented extreme measures across the board. While the timing of Goler’s situation (it happened in early summer rather than the school year) made communication with relevant parties difficult, a less extreme and more thoughtful solution to the problem within Sidney-Pacific could have been found.

Worse still, the hype surrounding flags outside of windows has left little, if any, room for appeal. In theory, each dormitory is entirely responsible for its own building regulations. While flying a flag outside of a window may be in violation of Sidney-Pacific’s existing poster rules, the incident has led to the enforcement of this rule at other dormitories, some of which did not have preexisting regulations. If one could provide a clear case against the safety threat posed by hanging a flag outside of a window, he or she should be allowed the power to appeal to his or her house government and request that, given these reasons, the rule should be changed.

In future, these debates should be decided by those with clear heads and through the proper channels. It is our responsibility as a community to make sure that these lines of communication always remain open.

Jeremy Baskin has recused himself from this editorial.