MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVIII No. 2
November / December 2005
Medical Task Force Releases Final Report
The New MIT Museum:
A Vision for the Future
Scientific Integrity
MIT and the Nation After 9/11
Merritt Roe Smith
Of Supreme Importance
Tyranny Against a Whistle-Blower at MIT
MIT Libraries Offer Metadata Support
On Values and a Caring Meritocracy for MIT
The Benefits Game
Vietnam and Cambodia: Three Decades Later A Photo-Journal
Percentage Rating the Quality of the MIT Medical Department "Good," "Very Good," or "Excellent"
Printable Version

Tyranny Against a Whistle-Blower at MIT

David Gordon Wilson

The Faculty Newsletter has taken the gutsy stand that Ted Postol's serious allegations should be examined ("Taking Responsibility," Vol. XVIII No. 1, September/October 2005). What I am writing about now concerns another very unhappy matter: the cover-up of acts of appalling abuse by senior people at MIT against a whistle-blower, Jim Grinnell.

First let me give a little relevant background. I came on the faculty of Mechanical Engineering in February 1966, and was given a new-faculty chore: oversight of the undergraduate workshops for a couple of years. The safety conditions were deplorable, and I forced through, against staff opposition, a bunch of safety measures. When my period of responsibility ended, the conditions gradually slipped back to those pre-existing. When Jim Grinnell was hired in 1981 to teach drafting, he had his students work in the shops. I learned much later that at that time he asked repeatedly for the Victorian conditions to be made safer, without response, and after one of his students was injured in the shops, he reported MIT to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), thereby unleashing a tyranny against him from his superiors.

I am writing this note because I have spent 10 years on this case.

I have appealed to every possible official at MIT; from the dean of engineering to the president and the chair of the Corporation, to the chair of the faculty, asking for a commission of inquiry or an independent arbitrator to review this tyranny and the reasons why the incontrovertible evidence I produced has been dismissed without examination. I have been rejected at every step. The people I went to all apparently asked the foxes about the welfare of the chickens. After following a request by Grinnell's attorney to attend a hearing on Grinnell's behalf which the attorney could not attend, I have been thrown out of court and threatened with imprisonment by Judge Hiller Zobell – undoubtedly my finest hour at MIT. (The MIT attorneys were smirking as I left.)

You may, and I hope will, read about the case, including most of the evidence, on a Website that Jim Grinnell and I have drawn up: I will not let it continue to be considered "case closed" on the word of people who lie and perjure with apparent impunity. Their actions brought about the near total destruction of Jim Grinnell, a loyal, dedicated, and absolutely honest employee, and of his family, and, in Jim's opinion, the suicide of one of Jim's former students. MIT's cover-up of this awful affair is exactly parallel to the cover-up initially instigated by the Catholic Church, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, and other organizations that were touted as tops in their fields. I am utterly revolted by it.

Jim Grinnell went to night school from 1970 to 1980 to earn his Master's degree in education at Fitchburg State College, and he was a tenured junior high school shop teacher in Norwell, MA, when he was hired to teach drafting at the Institute. Despite the totally false claim by his supervisor in a 1998 affidavit that Grinnell was hired to teach the required engineering course 2.70, transcripts and personnel records prove that he had no training or experience in mechanical design, calculus, physics, or engineering. This is relevant because part of the tyranny against Grinnell was to require him to supervise a section of a course for which he had no training or capability.

The case against Jim was based on lies and perjuries on the part of two senior colleagues and on the part of lawyers working for MIT.

I have presented incontestable evidence of these appalling lies and perjuries many times, starting with a letter to my then department head on February 15, 1999, and copied to five senior officers at MIT including President Vest (these letters are all on the Website). No inquiry into the evidence I presented has been made to my knowledge. It is this aspect that needs an outside commission. The fact that no one wants to examine this problem forces me to label it as a major cover-up.

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President Vest came across to me as a thoroughly nice and decent person. However, he was surrounded by and appeared to rely on mendacious people, especially the MIT attorneys. When Jim Grinnell asked me to help him in 1994 I was initially reluctant, because he was complaining of alleged actions by friends of mine. I found, however, that one of them had committed multiple perjuries in an affidavit; but he adamantly refused to discuss the case with me. I was drawn in deeper by a phone call on May 19, 1998 from Thomas Henneberry, then director of insurance and legal affairs for MIT, who told me that I must not "as an employee" work to help Grinnell except through the MIT attorneys (who were aiding in promulgating the perjuries and falsehoods). I told him that I was not an employee, being long retired, and that even if I were an employee I would help someone who seemed to be victimized. He then phoned my department head with the same message.

The department head invited me to meet him on May 29, 1998. He told me what turned out to be several appalling lies about Grinnell, among them that Grinnell "had broken into departmental HQ and had stolen his records." I checked into these accusations (the checking took many months) and brought evidence to my department head on February 10, 1999 that the allegations were totally untrue, and that he had been repeating these slanders, even though his assistant, Julie Drennan, had corrected him about them. He did not deny his repeated falsehoods, but said that Drennan "was no good: I fired her." He didn't: she left to have a baby and returned to work in the department in good standing. However, the department head wrote to the ME faculty repeating mendacities about Grinnell. I did not respond, because I thought that one of the many other senior people to whom I went would take action. They did nothing. They became part of the cover-up.

I have been repeatedly told that "there have been a number of examinations of Mr. Grinnell's claims, including judicial proceedings in which he was represented by counsel and in which he settled his claims against MIT." In fact, Grinnell was seldom represented by counsel because the MIT attorneys and the department head in particular practiced a series of dirty tricks (like Henneberry's above) starting with the naming of a three-person grievance committee that did not include a representative chosen by Grinnell (as stipulated by MIT's policies) and that held its hearings without talking to Grinnell, who by that time had been hospitalized in a severely depressed state.

Despite these serious shortcomings, the grievance committee concluded that Grinnell had been treated badly, a finding not acknowledged by the department head nor by the MIT attorneys. While Grinnell was in the hospital and while his grievance was supposedly being investigated, the department head retroactively fired him. As a result, Grinnell's pay and then his medical insurance were canceled illegally and without notice. When Grinnell tried to question these terribly penalizing conditions, he was told that no discussion could take place so long as he had an attorney, so Grinnell fired him. Then an MIT attorney illegally obtained Grinell's psychologist's notes about him. This type of action occurred throughout Grinnell's agonies at MIT. The Social Security Administration determined that Grinnell was mentally disabled before he was illegally fired by our department head, and he has remained disabled to the present. At this time, Jim Grinnell is on long-term disability (although MIT is apparently trying to stop it); he has lost his house, his marriage, his career, and is nearly destitute. He also has a cancerous tumor near his spine.

At this stage it seems that the only means that will clean up the rottenness that is within some parts of MIT is public exposure through an independent commission of inquiry. It saddens me greatly to have to ask for this.

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