Proving once again that nothing is safe in this economy, MIT’s mascot Tim the Beaver was kidnapped Saturday afternoon. The kidnappers, who said they were pressured to action while varsity sports at MIT were being threatened, demand that students’ voices be heard and are seeking a guarantee that all 41 varsity sports are kept at MIT for at least one more year.
Last week, the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER) announced that amid a budget cut of $1.45 million over the next three years, it would cut some varsity sports programs, relinquishing MIT’s claim to having the most varsity sports of any university in the country. DAPER’s decision on which sports will be cut has not yet been made.
With a decision not expected this week, the question remains: will the face of MIT athletics be back in time to greet the incoming class of 2013 during Campus Preview Weekend? The answer, it appears, is yes; the kidnappers stated that Tim will be returned by Wednesday.
The kidnappers agreed to speak to this reporter on the condition that they not be identified.
Tim was taken during the inaugural Beaver Bowl, a competition during last week’s Athletics Weekend where teams compete in various games such as tug-of-war and MIT sports trivia. Right before the final obstacle course, a group of seven students ran into Johnson Athletic Center wearing ski masks and wielding Nerf guns. Tim the Beaver, confused as to what was going on, was quickly surrounded and dragged out of the arena, while another kidnapper told people to get on the ground and shouted their demands to the surprised crowd.
The student who was playing Tim was immediately released unharmed.
The organizers of Athletics Weekend, along with the student playing Tim himself, were not aware of the planned kidnapping, according to the kidnappers.
The demands (see note, page 10) were simple: have the voice of the students heard, and find a way to keep all 41 varsity sports at MIT for at least another year.
Julie Soriero, director of athletics, expressed some challenges that teams would face if the cuts were in fact delayed a year. Among those was the concern that freshmen may not want to join a team that will be cut at the end of the year.
“Freshmen may be vital to field a full team,” she said.
To the kidnappers, however, one additional year would mean a lot or, at least, make the cuts more tolerable.
“It’d be hard for the players on those teams to think, ‘I’ve played in my last season,’” explained one of the kidnappers.
Delaying the cuts for a year is “not for the freshmen,” said Catherine Melnikow ’10, chair of the Undergraduate Association Committee on Athletics. “It’s for the returning athletes.”
Soriero also mentioned a concern that high staff turnover would result from a one-year delay, jeopardizing the leadership of the program.
Julie C. Andren ’10, chair of the Student Athletics Advisory Committee, thinks this is less of a concern. “If it were me, I’d prefer the extra year to find a new job.”
The beaver costume is managed by the Campus Activities Complex, which rents the costume to student groups and departments for events. According to the CAC website, the replacement cost for the suit is $7,000.
The kidnappers do not plan to damage the costume. “The goal of it is to raise awareness of the issue, to both alumni and faculty,” they said. “The only way we can make a difference is to get community pressure on the administration.”
The kidnappers also said that this was another case of the administration not listening to students and making decisions without student input.
Most students on campus first became aware that Tim was taken on Monday afternoon, after one of the kidnappers sent an e-mail to a series of dorm discussion lists. Student reaction to the theft was largely negative with students saying that the theft seemed an ineffective form of protest.
The reaction of Anthony D. Rindone ’10 typified that of many students who chimed in on e-mail threads across campus. “It’s pretty silly,” he said in an interview last night.
The beaver theft sends an ineffective message of “unless you comply with our demands, we’re gonna take away an important part of marketing to freshmen,” he said.
“We don’t want to be … quick to do some irrational thing whenever something we don’t like comes up,” he said.
But a few other students said that the “beavernapping” was just a funny stunt that sent MIT a serious message.
Hiroyuki G. Yamada ’11 heard about the theft on Saturday afternoon from a gymnast friend who mentioned seeing the theft at the Beaver Bowl event.
The ransom demands probably won’t be met, Yamada said. “It’s a $7,000 beaver suit and … a million and a half dollars has to come from somewhere,” referring to DAPER’s three-year budget cut target.
Still, it was obvious to him that the ransom wasn’t serious — he viewed the kidnapping as a fun joke, he said.
“It made some people laugh, and it made some people smile, and that’s what you need in a time when a lot of people are on the edge,” he said.
UA President Noah S. Jessop ’09 has been involved in talks with the administration regarding the budget cuts.
“Unfortunately, you can’t cut $150 million without someone losing something they like,” said Jessop. “We should hope the Institute is being creative.”
The $150-million cut refers to the Institute-wide plan to reduce expenses over the next three years. While athletics is one of many areas being cut, Jessop reiterated that the Institute has stood by its promise to not cut financial aid.
“We might be worried about losing the things we do, but at least we don’t lose the people we do them with,” said Jessop.
Michael McGraw-Herdeg contributed to the reporting of this article.