Intentions and Outcomes: My Understanding of the
Fall '07 Faculty Meetings
If the goal of the Winston-Manning resolution which was introduced at the faculty meeting on October 17, 2007, was to express the faculty’s concern regarding the way the administration had reacted to the Star Simpson case, that purpose was served when the resolution was tabled that afternoon after some discussion. In fact, Winston himself had asked to table the resolution because he thought the purpose had been served by the discussion that afternoon.
At the faculty meeting on October 17, 2007, I had proposed that Winston and Manning might want to have a discussion, first, with the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) before introducing a resolution at the full faculty meeting. My intention was to let the FPC members hear all sides of the issue, provide Winston and Manning a forum to air their views, and have a thorough discussion without the kind of adverse publicity a resolution against the administration was likely to generate. My intention was not to squelch deliberation but channel the faculty’s energy towards learning and to raise the consciousness of the administration, not to publicly humiliate them.
The discussion at the faculty meeting on October 17, 2007, was moving at times because of the passion with which Winston, Manning, and other faculty members had expressed their concerns.
By the time the motion was tabled at Winston’s urging, however, the point had been made. Still, at the end of that faculty meeting, I personally requested both Winston and Manning to attend the next FPC meeting, even though they had rejected my earlier request to do so. Since the resolution had already been introduced and discussed, I did not have to re-invite them to speak to the FPC members. My intention in re-inviting them, along with the members of the administration, and Professor Sheila Widnall (an Institute Professor who currently heads the Committee on Discipline) to FPC was to extend the discussion and turn it into a learning opportunity for all. Manning did not attend the meeting because he thought, “it was a set-up.” To allay any fear, I offered to Manning and Winston that they did not have to attend that particular FPC meeting in which the members of the administration were to attend; and that I would arrange a separate session of FPC only for them if necessary. But Winston attended the meeting and spoke freely and eloquently, before I asked Chancellor Phil Clay to explain what the administration had learned from the Star Simpson episode.
True, I did invite to the meeting Greg Morgan, MIT’s legal counsel, even though Greg was reluctant to attend the FPC meeting! My intention in inviting Greg was not to pose a legal threat to anyone but to better understand the legal environment in which MIT operates now, in the aftermath of 9/11.
At the meeting, after Winston and Clay had spoken, the FPC members raised many questions, some supporting Winston’s position on the issue. We carried on the discussion among the FPC members over three additional meetings, parts of which were devoted to this particular issue. The FPC members in general were supportive of the concerns Winston had raised, but there was no general eagerness to humiliate an administration that took FPC seriously, attended the meetings, and engaged in frank discussions with FPC members. As the chair of FPC, I wanted to use the FPC as a forum for deliberations, not as a committee to reprimand the administration.
What happened at the next faculty meeting on December 19, 2007, is well known by now. I do not need to interpret every detail of the meeting, except one, which surprised many faculty members on both sides of the resolution. The way President Emeritus Paul Gray was treated at the meeting, when he wanted to speak, was truly painful to witness.
I have known Paul Gray since 1984 and consider him a very experienced and wise person whose contribution to MIT has been rightly acknowledged by naming the President’s residence after him. That someone could stop Paul Gray from speaking at an MIT faculty meeting was beyond my realm of thinking – particularly since in my remarks at the faculty meeting I had publicly asked him to join in the deliberations. Anyone knowledgeable about the rules of MIT faculty meetings should know that the Chair of the Faculty and the President, as the chair of the meeting, can grant speaking privileges to anyone they consider important for the purpose of the meeting. Then why was Paul Gray interrupted and his speaking privileges challenged? And, how could such a cruel breach of common decency and civility be justified as an afterthought in the pages of MIT’s Faculty Newsletter?
As the chair of the MIT faculty, I offer Paul Gray a sincere apology for not protesting his humiliation at the meeting. And for those who may still like to bar Paul Gray from influencing the discussions at any future faculty meetings, I grant in writing my permission: AS LONG AS I AM THE CHAIR OF THE FACULTY (2007-2009) PAUL GRAY WILL HAVE UNLIMITED SPEAKING PRIVILEGES AT FACULTY MEETINGS. Considering Paul Gray’s immense contribution to MIT, this is a small gesture of appreciation I offer on behalf of faculty who care about civility and decency in the public domain.
Click here to read "Comment on Professor Sanyal's response to my article 'Finding Polaris and Changing Course'" by Prof. Manning.