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How to Stay Well-Rounded at MIT

I am writing in response to Dan Scolnic’s column “Why We Don’t Read” [The Tech, March 12]. Scolnic, a freshman, whines that MIT “institutionalizes” us students, somehow preventing us from reading, watching television, or being exposed to the outside world in general. Clearly this characterization is far from the truth for many MIT students (we weren’t accepted because we were dimensionless workhorses), but those students who do find themselves in some kind of “bubble” can and should rectify the situation with a minimal amount of effort.

For starters, you could change your home page from the ever-boring to The New York Times (download a pop-up blocker first) or your favorite news source. Instead of reading the unenlightening, poorly written slop in “Sex and the Saferide,” try checking out the Arts & Letters Daily Web site for insightful, professionally written articles from a variety of publications about things other than science. Trust me, being able to carry on an intelligent conversation over dinner will serve you better than reading about other MIT students’ dorky encounters.

The fact that you have no clue what Bush is doing, aside from being embarrassing (a features columnist for a university paper who doesn’t read other papers?), is not the fault of MIT. Believe it or not, plenty of people on this campus manage to take more than 48 units and still keep up with current affairs. It only takes a few minutes a week to read some opinion pieces from your favorite news columnists (and I don’t mean The Tech); take a little break from that dinky 8.02 problem set and browse the op-eds of some online papers. For a fun challenge in detecting media bias, try watching a few minutes of both CNN and Fox News, then compare. You could even explore a budding interest in politics by checking out some offerings from the MIT College Democrats or Republicans.

These are just a few of many suggestions for bursting through the freshman tech bubble and attempting to maintain some semblance of a well-rounded person through your four-year term. One thing is for certain: a way to discover some extra-curricular interests really fast is to date someone outside of MIT. When he decides to plunge into the dating scene, I think Scolnic will quickly find that complaining about differential equations and making jokes in source code only gets you so far with the ladies.

Marjan S. Bolouri ’04

Questions of Truth

As someone who was deeply disturbed by “What a Difference a Year Makes,” the anonymous article published in The Tech on February 24, depicting a brutal rape on the MIT campus, I am extremely troubled by the implications of MIT Chief of Police John DiFava’s letter [“The Need to Know,” Mar. 12]. DiFava wrote that after a thorough review of MIT and Cambridge police records, as well as consultations with relevant medical and administrative personnel, he found no record of the crime described in the original account that appeared in The Tech’s Arts section. An Ombudsman column written by John Hawkinson and printed on March 2 [“The Tech Brushes With Anonymity, More Care Needed”] has already addressed the failures of Tech editors to verify the authenticity of the rape account before its publication.

If, as suggested by DiFava’s investigation, it proves to be the case that the account was fabricated, it is an instance of gross journalistic irresponsibility on the part of Tech editors. Moreover, the submission of the piece under false pretenses represents an unethical and harmful manipulation of members of the MIT community by the individuals responsible. Hawkinson’s criticism of the handing of this article in his Ombudsman column is not sufficient response to this extraordinary lapse of judgment on the part of those charged with insuring some level of dependability in the information put forward by this publication. I call upon The Tech, with help from any relevant MIT administrators, to conduct a review of the information put forward as a true account, twice verified by Arts Editor Christine Fry, and to publish another piece fully exposing any untruths in the article published on Feb. 24.

Please do not consider me to be insensitive to the victim of the horrible crime portrayed in the original “What a Difference a Year Makes” account; nothing could be further from the truth. In the weeks following its publication, I was often haunted by thoughts of the author’s experience and the alleged failure of Institute authorities to protect and support her. My aim here is simply to point out that it is not just the victim who is affected by such a horrifying event. Many members of this community go into lab on Sundays, work late in Athena clusters, or walk home from campus alone. The provision (or distortion) of accurate information about failures in crime prevention and response on the MIT campus serves to educate (or mislead) us all about the risks associated with our lifestyles. The community has a right to know the truth about this incident.

Katharine L. Ricke ’04

Editor’s Response: We are taking these questions very seriously, as well as those of several other readers. As we have acknowledged, we made a mistake in printing this anonymous account through an intermediary without confirmation. I have been in communication with Chief DiFava and the intermediary, and I am still working to obtain documentary evidence to substantiate this account. I will keep you posted.

Christine Fry
Arts Editor

Separation of Powers

I have noticed that amidst all the debate over the issue of gay marriage in Massachusetts, notably absent are any references to the dissenting opinions in the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision “Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.” The opinions, written by Justices Francis Spina, Martha Sosman, and Robert Cordy, do not address in depth whether or not the court feels that gay marriage should be allowed. That issue of personal opinion is not for the court to decide. Their decisions, rather, deal largely with the court’s role within the government.

Justice Spina eloquently outlines this issue in his opening. “What is at stake in this case is not the unequal treatment of individuals or whether individual rights have been impermissibly burdened, but the power of the Legislature to effectuate social change without interference from the courts, pursuant to Article 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. ... Today, the court has transformed its role as protector of individual rights into the role of creator of rights.”

Fundamental to our democratic form of government is the concept of separation of powers. The role of the court is clearly defined in both the Massachusetts Constitution and the United States Constitution as that of upholding the laws passed by the legislature. The traditional role of judicial review applies only when the plaintiff can challenge the constitutionality of a law.

The plaintiffs in this case did challenge the law as unconstitutional. But on what basis did the court rule in their favor? The majority opinion cites the equal protection and due process provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution. However, the dissenting opinions make it clear that these clauses are not applicable to the Goodridge case. There is no question of equal protection under the law in this situation, because there is no person being denied a right that another person is granted. As Justice Spina writes, “This court should not have invoked even the most deferential standard of review within equal protection analysis because no individual was denied access to the institution of marriage.” Furthermore, “the court correctly recognizes [that] constitutional protections are extended to individuals, not couples.”

The majority opinion and the dissenters agree that the question of due process largely becomes a question of whether there is any rational basis for a law. However, past court cases have made it clear that if there is any argument at all in favor of a law, it is up to the legislature to make that decision, not the court. Quoting the case “Fine v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board,” Justice Sosman points out that a statute “only need[s to] be supported by a conceivable rational basis.” Whether or not the court agrees with this rational basis is irrelevant.

I would encourage everyone to read through the dissenting opinions from “Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.” There is indeed a forum to debate the issue of “homosexual marriage,” but it is in the legislature, not the courts. I believe that the public should consider all facets of this issue, from a secular, a practical, and a moral point of view. The Goodridge decision, however, has denied the citizens of Massachusetts the opportunity to consider this issue, and it has prevented the legislature from fulfilling its constitutionally defined responsibility to pass the laws that will govern this state. This abuse of power by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is unacceptable, and we should encourage our representatives to fulfill their role as legislators and stand up to the court.

Kevin J. DiGenova ’07