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The Case for the Status Quo

Over the last few weeks there has been an accelerated amount of debate over student issues, especially dining. There has been debate over how MIT should step into the future, while remembering our roots, and being realistic about our present. There are administrators, trying to enhance MIT as a fun and competitive university, and students, trying to keep MIT … well, like MIT.

The Tech has done an admirable job showing both sides of this debate, especially recently. First they printed all those articles about the Blue Ribbon Dining Committee, and then Akash Chandawarkar’s column about how administrators are awesome. Then lots of angry rebuttals. I’m writing this as a counterpoint to both sides, to advocate that students and administrators do nothing. Do nothing on dining, hacking, housing, judicial committees, the General Institute Requirements … just do nothing.

First, doing nothing is popular. In today’s deteriorating economy, corporations around the world are in a race to do less as fast as possible. Lay-offs, sell-offs, woot-offs — getting rid of crap and responsibility is fashionable right now.

Second, now is not a time to make big plans. It’s cold outside. Classes are hard. People can’t find jobs. The budget is being cut. With all this bad news, all this planning seems depressing. There is too much happening at the same time right now at MIT for there to be a good chance of us doing things right.

Most importantly, the status quo is foggy and undefined. Does MIT have dining halls? Sort of. Student-run judicial systems? Sort of. Kitchens? Sort of. Does MIT support and treasure student traditions like hacking? Sort of.

I came to MIT three years ago at 17 years old. I have never been asked for ID at an MIT party. For the record, I’m not a girl. I’m a dude, an overweight, underage, very hairy person with a penis. Yet the world seems filled with frat brothers and dorm groups who love to give me alcohol.

My freshman year I stood next to an MIT cop, at a party, with a red cup, asking him about the state senate while drinking from the red cup. Half a dozen MIT staff and dozens of student risk managers have only created an ill-defined system whose best features are cascading levels of plausible deniability and lots of paperwork. There is no real oomph to anything.

That’s why that status quo is so great. Every day the student body defines for itself how it will live and learn. The debate lives on, the boundaries are pushed, and administrators are constantly trying to change things. The constant debate and discontent educates us in a way that the soft moaning of happiness never could. The fact that our problems are never actually solved helps make MIT students such great problem solvers.

So please, keep on debating, meeting, stalling, and protesting, all to no effect. Because to me, doing nothing is the kind of non-change I can believe in.

Christopher B. Palmer ’09

Where Is the Student Activism?

I am writing in reply to the column by Yaniv Junno Ophir and Gila Fakterman that appeared in the Jan. 28, 2009, issue of The Tech, titled “Expecting More from an MIT Professor: How Prof. Chomsky’s Talk Failed the Community.”

Although I happen to agree with Professor Chomsky’s assessment of the situation in Israel and Palestine, I will let him defend his statements and produce evidence as requested by the authors of the article. I think this will be fairly easy. For one the authors could have attended a local seminar last Tuesday, Feb. 17, where an Israeli citizen, Shachaf Polakow, gave a presentation and explained the situation that he has personally witnessed in Israel and Palestine.

By the way, I did not see a Tech article covering this very informative event that featured several additional speakers, including Professor Chomsky.

I would like to spend most of my effort in debunking the less explicit part of the charge, that Professor Chomsky has somehow failed the community. Now, this is by far the most dangerous statement, in my opinion. One interpretation of it is that if one were to express an opinion different from that coming from CNN or FOX, one fails their community. Maybe the authors did not intend that, but that is how it comes across.

I am actually surprised, although I should not be, that there are no angry articles in The Tech stating that 99% of professors have failed the MIT community by keeping quiet. Being quiet on the issue is perhaps the worst stance that MIT students and faculty can adopt.

Where is the renowned student activism? Where is the MIT anti-war movement? Where is the MIT labor movement? Where is the MIT global justice and equality movement? I do not know. Maybe I am not looking hard enough.

Then when one person raises the issue, and raises an unconventional (although not an unreasonable) explanation for the problems, we have a very lengthy article arguing that that person is failing the community. Quite a remarkable achievement for the community of an institution that calls itself a university.

It seems to be healthy to get these debates and dialogues in the open. For one, as Professor Chomsky has also argued, debates, arguments, and disagreements are a sign that “real” education is taking place. We need more of that, not less.

Alexi I. Goranov PhD ’06