by Alan Shihadeh
The Committee for Social Justice presented a petition to Chairman Paul Gray on Friday which demanded that John Reed and Lawrence Hough be removed from the MIT Corporation for their role in the Congressional effort to eliminate Stafford Direct Loans, the main source of financial aid for MIT students. The petition was signed by almost 300 members of the MIT community. John Reed and Lawrence Hough are the CEO's of Citibank and the Student Loan Marketing Association, both of which have lobbied Congress to eliminate Stafford Direct Loans, a program in which the federal government provides loans directly to educational institutions, without going through intermediaries such as banks and loan agencies. The direct lending program was instituted in 1993 as a way to reduce paperwork, administrative delays, and save money, but was immediately undermined through lobbying efforts by banks and loan agencies. Financial institutions stand to make $9 billion over the next 7 years if the direct lending program is eliminated, according to Education Secretary Riley. As a result of the lobbying efforts, Congress has cut the number of Stafford Direct Loans by 5% in the current budget reconciliation bill. MIT Corporation Chairman Paul Gray conceded on Friday that John Reed and Lawrence Hough had clear conflicts of interest, but the question is whether the conflict is strong enough to warrant having them step down... I think not. When pressed to elaborate his position by Committee for Social Justice member Jeff Hebb, Gray stated that the petition says they don't serve the student body adequately. But the trustees responsibility is to serve the institution in some longer term holistic sense... they are accountable only to society, not any particular constituency within the institute... If students were represented on the Corporation, that would constitute an egregious conflict of interest. The Corporation is the main governing body of the Institute, and is responsible for all decisions over academic programs, research activities, student housing, ROTC, and it appoints the Institute president. Its 70 members are self-elected, and self-policing, said Gray. Students and faculty can voice their opinions through the Corporation Joint Advisory Committee. When Hebb asked whether this Committee has any voting power, Gray stressed that it is only an advisory Committee. "So students have no vote in Institute decisions?," asked Hebb. "That'xs correct," Gray replied. After the meeting, Hebb commented that this is a completely top-down, autocratic place...I can't believe that students and faculty can't vote, and that they are construed as a special interest when corporations like Citibank, Exxon, and Digital aren't. What a scam. The Committee for Social Justice will be meeting again on Thursday, December 14 in room 5-134 at 6:30 p.m. to decide how to proceed. All members of the MIT community are invited to participate. For more information. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.