Students are planning a sit-in today in Lobby 7 to protest the administration’s treatment of student issues like hacking, housing, and dining.
As campus opens up for Family Weekend, the protesters hope to draw attention to their complaints, which have one common theme: that students are cut out of the Institute’s decision-making process.
“MIT’s big spiel is that MIT students will change the world — but we can’t even change MIT,” said Nathan S. Lachenmyer ’10, who is involved with the protest.
In their mission statement, the protesters ask for more transparency from the administration, publicly available notes from any meeting involving students, and monthly town hall meetings between the administration and students.
The protesters are calling themselves the “Campaign for Students,” a name taken from Susan Hockfield’s effort to raise $500 million, also called the “Campaign for Students.”
Their website, www.campaignforstudents.com, lists some of the top grievances, which include MIT’s surprise eviction of Green Hall residents last year and its comments about the Logan Airport arrest of Star A. Simpson ’10, whose actions an MIT press release labeled “reckless.”
An e-mail sent from firstname.lastname@example.org last night also mentioned the “state of dining and dining halls at MIT including Simmons, Baker, W1 and Pritchett Dining.” Students might be concerned that the Phoenix Group dining plan, which charged the NW35 undergraduates $600 at the beginning of the fall semester to receive free all-you-can-eat meals (from 6–8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday), might be applied to other dormitory dining halls without student input. For instance, MIT has tried repeatedly to introduce all-you-can-eat dining to the Simmons Hall.
“The administration consistently disregards student opinion,” the protest organizers write in their mission statement. “Students feel misled into believing that decision makers will use their input.”
“It’s our goal to revive student participation,” Lachenmyer said.
T-shirts picturing a string of dominoes collapsing onto the MIT logo will be distributed at the protest. Inscribed on each falling domino is an area of concern — “communication,” “hacking,” “dining,” “housing,” and “community.”
The shirts were designed and paid for by the Undergraduate Association in the spring, according to former UA president Martin F. Holmes ’08. They were left over from a failed UA initiative unrelated to the current protest. The UA has tried to distance itself from today’s protest and the campaign behind it.
Last fall, about 30 MIT students picketed Walker Memorial to protest the administration’s statements about Simpson’s arrest. Simpson was apprehended at gunpoint at Logan airport for wearing a blinking LED sign, which was mistaken for a bomb. On the same day, MIT released a statement condemning Simpson’s actions as “reckless.”
At last year’s protest, students marched with signs that read “Think before you speak” and “Support the students.”
Today’s sit-in will probably be more studious, Lachenmyer said. “It’s a tool-in,” he said. “It’s like a sit-in, but people get together with their psets to tool.”
Tool-in recalls 1999 protest
A similar “tool-in” was held in April 1999. Students from the group ILTFP organized the tool-in to protest what they saw as creeping paternalism and a tendency to ignore student requests, The Tech reported. “We have a committee. We discuss stuff. They do what they were going to do anyway,” tool-in organizer Jeremy Brown ’94 said in 1999.
At the time, he told The Tech, “My fantasy is that it’ll put a different spin on the state of student dissatisfaction.”
“I guess as a solidarity activity it was successful,” Brown said last night, as he looked back on the protest. He said they had hoped to get non-MIT press to cover the activity.
Brown, who now runs a small software business, said that in his time, students and administrators sometimes got along. When Stephen D. Immerman, now senior associate dean for student development, “took a direct personal hand” in helping Senior House students during their dorm’s renovation, “it was probably the single most successful student-administration team-up I ever saw,” Brown said.
Student protests have sometimes worked, too. Students reacted strongly to a 1994 MIT committee report that proposed moving residents out of East Campus and Senior House and possibly into Ashdown House. The response was really something, Brown said: “Sport Death Banners over McCormick.” (Tire swings appeared across campus and copies of Senior House’s iconic banner appeared in front of five West Campus dorms. The report was abandoned.)
“The student reaction to almost anything is almost always to maintain the status quo,” Brown said. “I can really see how the administration could ultimately choose efficiency over … negotiation when the negotiation is for no change. I don’t know how you fix it, because every freshman comes in just as dumb as the freshman the year before.” But if the administration were to try to negotiate with students, they’d get better decisions and a “better taste left in someone’s mouth” when students graduate, Brown said.
“I started donating after Chuck Vest left,” he said.