MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXXII No. 1
September / October 2019
September Faculty Meeting Calls for
Major Changes in Institute Policy
The Hard Road to Recovery
The MIT-Nepal Initiative: Four Years On
On the Responsibilities of Instructors
A Letter to President Rafael Reif and
Provost Marty Schmidt Regarding Epstein
A Motion to Establish an Ad Hoc Faculty Committee to Protect Academic Integrity
It Is Difficult to Know What to Do
Two Donors, Two Deaths, Two Responses
Patrick Henry Winston
Report on the Faculty Classroom Survey Spring 2019
New Atlas Process Paves Way for Supporting
Undergraduate Research Innovation
A Case for Mid-Semester Feedback
Hayden Renovation Update:
Key Dates for the Fall
Nominate a Colleague as a
MacVicar Faculty Fellow
from the Faculty Classroom Survey
Spring 2019
Printable Version

It Is Difficult to Know What to Do

Edmund Bertschinger

September 18, 2019

It is difficult to know what to do. The senior leadership team must have found it difficult to balance pros and cons of taking money from Epstein, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and other bad actors. They must have struggled with comparing tangible benefits with intangible costs, with deciding where to draw the line, and with the choice to cross over that line without appearing to do so. I’m heartbroken that the senior team apparently spent more time discussing concerns about Epstein’s reputation than about MIT’s, when they took the drastic step of accepting money from a disqualified donor.

How many other times has this happened? Who are the other disqualified donors? Was money taken from them? Has the leadership team consulted with community members outside their privileged circle, including sexual assault victims, to understand the impact of their decisions? What happened to those people who expressed concerns?

The new College of Computing has adopted a mission statement calling it to address the social and ethical aspects of computing. That is putting the cart before the horse. We need to address the social and ethical aspects of leadership. We want our students to take ethics classes, but what about our leaders? How many of our senior team understood that taking dirty money to do clean work means destroying the community’s trust? What do excellence, integrity, meritocracy, boldness, and humility mean now? Whose responsibility is it to make the world a better place?

To my friends who want to focus on the positive – for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose. I don’t feel ready to focus entirely on the positive, and I am not alone. Listen to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that the greatest stumbling block for African Americans is not the Ku Klux Klanner, “but the white moderate, who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

It is difficult to know what to do. But it is not difficult to know when one’s personal values, and a community’s stated values, have been violated.

Editor's Note: The above also appeared in the September 26, 2019 The Tech.

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