Scientific Giants Held Theological Interests, Too
I am writing in response to a letter appearing in the Jan. 16, 2008 issue from Miguel Valença Pires G (“Chaplain Position Is Affront to MIT Tradition”).
I am bemused that the argument put forward by Mr. Pires in opposition to the appointment of a chaplain at MIT rests so strongly on the identity of the various scientific giants whose names are inscribed around Killian Court. While it is certainly true that D’Alembert was no friend of organized religion and Pasteur was lukewarm in his associations with the same, the other three men cited by Pires were all deeply committed men of faith.
Galileo, despite his woes engendered by the heliocentric model of the universe, remained a theologically orthodox Catholic all his life. Kepler’s dream had been to enter the Lutheran ministry but he was forced to mathematics by economic necessity. His life’s work never lost contact with his theological interests, however. He even published a small tract on his understanding of the relationship between science and the Scriptures, a text from which Galileo borrowed freely in his own work. Finally, Newton’s connections with both orthodox faith and the world of the supernatural were so strong that John Maynard Keynes famously cited him as “the last of the magi” in the text he prepared for the tercentenary celebration of Newton’s birth.
Whether MIT should have a chaplain or not is certainly a conversation worth having. I just hope that when we do so, we first comprehend the long scientific tradition to which we are heirs in its full intellectual complexity. This must inevitably include the many cases where devotion to understanding the natural world was fully in harmony with the belief in, and worship of, the Divine.
Clarifications About Original ASA Space Allocation Policy
There are several factual errors in The Tech’s article about the Association of Student Activities space allocation policy in the Dec. 11, 2007 issue of the newspaper (“ASA Allocates Student Group Space, Chooses Rooms for More Review”).
I was ASA president in 1987 and 1988. I, along with Sonia L. Kuenzig ’87 and John F. Kuenzig ’88, wrote the original ASA space allocation policy. This policy was adopted by a unanimous vote of the ASA general assembly in 1987.
The errors are as follows:
1. The ASA executive board does not have the authority to amend the space allocation policy. Any amendments must be approved by the ASA general assembly.
2. ASA is a supragovernmental body and not a joint committee of the Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council. It actually has the authority to deallocate space to the UA or GSC, although this would be extremely unlikely.
3. The ASA’s authority to reallocate office space is delegated from the dean’s office, and ASA has always involved the dean’s office in the process to minimize the chances for capricious reallocation of space. For example, our first act after passage of the space allocation policy was to revoke and renovate office space in Walker Memorial that had been abandoned for more than a year (there were squirrels living in the office). One of the offices was subsequently assigned to the Black Graduate Student Association for the BGSA Lounge. Another was assigned to small activities for storage.
4. The two-step appeals process was deliberate, to slow down the process. We believed that ASA should not reallocate office space that was in active use and designed the process to make it difficult to reallocate space. A decision to reallocate space should be clear cut and non-controversial.
5. We believed that the office space of organizations with a long history at MIT, such as The Tech, Technique, WMBR, APO, LSC, Musical Theatre Guild, Tech Model Railroad Club, Voo Doo Magazine and the Science Fiction Society, would not be subject to reallocation unless the organizations became defunct. Most of these organizations predate ASA, the UA, and the GSC, and their office spaces were specifically designed according to their needs and designated as such in the original blueprints for the Stratton Student Center.
6. Walker Memorial has been in need of renovation for two decades. It was ASA’s report on the condition of student activity space campus-wide, with a special focus on Walker Memorial, that spurred the creation of a space allocation policy. At the time Phillip J. Walsh and Victoria Sirianni told me that Walker Memorial would be given high priority for renovations.
7. A key philosophical basis for the space allocation policy was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If an organization was actively using its space, maintaining the status quo would promote the long-term success of student organizations at MIT. New organizations had to demonstrate some longevity before they could be allocated space and have a clear plan for how they would use the space. They also had to demonstrate how the use of the space would contribute to the organization and the community.