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Freshman Falls Through Bldg. 5 Skylight

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: A Feb. 1 article “Freshman Falls Through Bldg. 5 Skylight” should have identified the site of a 1999 accident as Building E52, not Building 52.

By Angeline Wang
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

An MIT freshman fell one and a half stories through a skylight on the roof of Building 5 early Sunday morning. The student, who is currently at Massachusetts General Hospital, suffered numerous broken bones and “was quite badly hurt,” said Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict, but is no longer in critical condition.

Senior Associate Dean for Students Robert M. Randolph, who has been in contact with the student’s family and doctors, declined to release the student’s name for reasons of privacy. East Campus Housemaster Julian K. Wheatley confirmed that the student is okay, but declined to give further information about the EC resident.

There were about five other students with the student when she fell, according to Randolph. He said he has not spoken to the other students and does not yet know why they were on the roof.

“I’ve been told it was a hack, I’ve been told it was students exploring, I’ve been told it was star-gazing, any of which might be true,” Randolph said.

Randolph said he had no reason to believe alcohol was involved.

According to Captain David Carlson, MIT Police units were dispatched at 2:34 a.m. Sunday after receiving a call from the Cambridge Police Department. They arrived a minute later, and the student was taken to MGH shortly thereafter.

Martin F. Holmes ’08, who was walking home through the halls around 3 a.m. that morning, said that he saw five police cars, an ambulance, and three fire vehicles.

The student had landed on the staircase platform underneath the skylight between the second and third floors of Building 5, Carlson said.

Randolph, who spoke to the student on the phone, said that she was in critical condition at one point, but by yesterday afternoon was able to stand and was “feeling somewhat better.” Randolph predicted that she would be released from MGH into care at the MIT Infirmary sometime next week.

“This was really very close to being a tragedy,” he said. “It was a tragedy, but it could have been much worse.”

Regarding possible disciplinary action for the students, Randolph said that the punishments defined by the current rooftop policy automatically apply to any student found in unauthorized areas of campus. He acknowledged that the physical condition of the student who fell through the skylight would affect what disciplinary actions are appropriate for her.

But some questions remain among administrators and faculty about the specifics of the current policy.

The policy is set by the Office of Student Life, but neither Benedict nor Randolph claimed clear ownership, each referring to the other as having authority on the topic.

The punishments for being found in an unauthorized area have been in flux over the past year as the rooftop policy has undergone multiple revisions. The Tech was not able to obtain a print or online copy of the current policy, though Randolph indicated it should be available online.

Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 and Randolph helped create a policy in June that could have significantly increased the automatic fine for students found on rooftops of MIT buildings. A revised policy, later suggested by Undergraduate Association Vice President Jessica H. Lowell ’07, replaced the fines with community service, and was sent to the Committee on Discipline for review in November.

The Chair of the COD, Margery Resnick said she found the punishment “frankly very minimal.”

The committee, which includes five students, suggested revisions intended to prevent students from paying off uncompleted service hours. These revisions were then sent back to Randolph and Benedict last November; Resnick said she has since received no response from either administrator.

It is unclear whether and to what extent these suggestions were incorporated, as Benedict said the policy in effect was the one suggested by Lowell.

The discussion about creating a more stringent rooftop policy originated in part due to an accident in 1999 when an MIT freshman fell 96 feet down an unused chimney in Building 52. She landed in a pile of soot and was taken to MGH where she recovered.

“We are concerned about these situations for precisely these reasons,” said Randolph when asked about the policy and the changes it has gone through. “My expectation is that there will be wider conversation as a result” of this incident.