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Committee on Community Discusses Threat of War

By Jessica A. Zaman


Professor J. Kim Vandiver addressed a sparse crowd of MIT faculty, staff, and students as part of a Committee on Community “briefing” in 10-250 last night. The committee is sponsoring the “Community Briefings” to help preserve freedom of expression at MIT during times of increased international tension.

In addition to organizing the briefings, the committee established an emergency response plan in the case of a war or terror attack, held training sessions for facilitators in the case of an emergency, and promoted further dialogue through residence-based events.

Vandiver discussed MIT principles

“We want to establish rules of conduct in times of war,” Vandiver said, “policies that will help maintain principles of MIT.”

The committee has outlined three main principles for the community: MIT is an educational institution, MIT is an international institution, and all members of the MIT community are full members.

“We have students from all over the world at MIT,” said Kirk D. Kolenbrander of the committee. “We want to make sure people in the community are thinking about and appreciating its diversity.”

Committee formed for dialogue

The MIT Committee on Community was formed last fall by Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 as signs of conflict in Iraq became increasingly apparent.

The 22 faculty, staff, and students on the committee have been meeting since November to discuss principles of the MIT community and steps that can be taken protect it.

“We want to facilitate an open community and dialogue,” Vandiver said. “There are two conflicting freedoms, freedom of speech and freedom from interference from living and studying.”

MIT responds to briefing

One audience member questioned whether the committee’s real goal was to promote open dialogue and tolerance, or merely deal with emergency preparedness. The committee has not yet provided a forum for for MIT faculty, students, and staff to discuss issues that may affect the community, such as affirmative action.

“You’re a step ahead of us,” Kolenbrander said. He said the committee began as an attempt to deal with the threat a war in Iraq may pose to the MIT community, but it has found these issues are relevant more broadly.

Similar sentiments were expressed by others. “It would be nice to see the committee doing something all the time,” said Robert C. Jagnow G, one of the few students to attend the briefing. “However, I’m glad the committee is being proactive. There are some serious issues being addressed.” But “I’m disappointed there isn’t more student involvement,” he said.

Ahmed M. Elmouelhi G, the president of the Muslim Students Association, said he is pleased the administration has been receptive to all members of the MIT community.

“I can see how international conflict can have far-reaching problems,” Elmouelhi said. “There can be direct and indirect repercussions on students. There’s an intimidation factor of not understanding your place in the MIT community or if it will support you.”

“It affects people academically, especially international students,” Elmouelhi said. “I hope MIT will remain at the forefront of academic institutions and guarantee international students the education they’ve worked for and deserve.”

Future plans for the committee

The last community briefing will be held next Thursday, March 6 in the Wong Auditorium. Committee members say they are optimistic about their progress, even though the previous two meetings attracted only small crowds.

“Most of the community is not on guard,” Vandiver said. “My feeling is if things heat up, more people will show up.”