I. The Goodwin Procter Report and Faculty Views
on the Jeffrey Epstein Case; II. No War on Iran;
III. Professor Aron Bernstein; IV. FNL Officers Elected
This issue contains important articles on the Jeffrey Epstein funding scandal and related issues from Professors Leigh Royden and Rosalind Williams, Professor Kenneth Manning, and Faculty Chair Rick Danheiser. These are deserving of careful reading. MIT Students Against War also released a valuable statement (see their Facebook page).
Continuing Conflict of Interest and the Need for Reformed Governance
Though the Goodwin Procter report was valuable, it did not represent an “independent” assessment. Indeed, it was commissioned and paid for by the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, under the President’s direction, and the firm has represented MIT in the past in important lawsuits. There is no guarantee that the firm will not receive future business from MIT. Given these facts, it is perhaps not surprising that the report specifically exonerated the President. Indeed, the Corporation relied on a second law firm (Paul, Weiss) to verify and certify the findings, to lend more credibility to the report. Moreover, given that all the official bodies engaged in evaluating the events have been authorized and empowered by the President, working with the Executive Committee, we have to look to voices that are not tainted by that obvious conflict of interest.
The released report revealed considerable evidence that the problematic nature of accepting Epstein’s donations was well understood and condoned at the highest level of the Administration and the Corporation. The widespread discussion that led to the cover-up of the donations and the decision to keep them anonymous represents a deep failure to protect the integrity and image of the Institute.
The responsible parties made the wrong decision, resulting in the Institute once again putting access to private income streams above the reputation, mission, and integrity of academic life at MIT. There are innumerable issues on which the faculty, students, and staff have no explicit guidelines, but the expectation is that each will act with some sense of moral and social responsibility, with actions that can be owned up to and defended in the full light of public scrutiny. The notion that the absence of written guidelines exonerates Institute leadership, as the report claims, is bizarre.
The best solution to this failure of leadership is to bring MIT’s governance structure into the twenty-first century on both the representational and operational levels, overcoming current impediments to genuine faculty governance. This will be achieved by having electronic elections with voting by the whole faculty, an elected Nominations Committee, more candidates than open slots in order to accommodate candidates running on different platforms, and Institute faculty meetings chaired by the Chair of the Faculty that can make Institute decisions. Given the mobilization of modern technology by MIT for handling course administration, grants, and personnel, electing key committee members by visual count of raised hands of those attending a single meeting of the faculty can only represent resistance to faculty governance by the Administration. Across the nation citizens are battling to reduce the barriers to voting for their elected representatives and opening up access on the ballot to elected offices. It’s time MIT joined that effort in our internal governance.
Reforming the Corporation and its Executive Committee
The reform of governance needed within the Institute has to extend to the Corporation and its Executive Committee, which require far higher participation from faculty, educators, and leaders of other research universities than its current membership allows. It also necessitates revision of the rules and bylaws, including the rules that govern the Corporation, to ensure that the reforms have real-world meaning.
The Goodwin Procter report was reviewed by the Executive Committee of the Corporation before release and some sections were redacted. However, even the released version makes clear that the Executive Committee was aware of the problems with the Epstein donations. They were passive in not intervening, and therefore complicit. Certainly, Chairman Robert Millard and members of the Executive Committee bear some responsibility.
MIT alumni include leading academics, scientists, engineers, architects, social scientists, and humanists at the major universities, in the U.S. and abroad. Yet very few are represented on the Corporation.
We note that the Corporation has been silent on many of the controversial issues that have disturbed students, staff, and faculty in recent years. These include the building of commercial office buildings rather than graduate housing on campus, the continuing relationships with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the influence of the Schwarzman donations on computer science and other areas of research at MIT.
The corporate tilt of the Corporation membership perhaps accounts for their silence with respect to the Ruiz/Reif/Marsh misuse of the invaluable and irreplaceable East Campus land for commercial office buildings, rather than graduate housing, laboratories, and academic facilities.
The Value of the Royden/Williams Report
The report on page 1 offers viewpoints quite different from the official Administration communications. The general policy of this Faculty Newsletter is to require articles and letters be signed. We believe this is sound for this publication, but a downside is the frequent loss of articles by faculty who fear that candid expression of their concerns will result in some form of recrimination from the Administration or other colleagues. However, in many areas of social science research, keeping the identities of individuals responding to questionnaires anonymous, is standard. Professors Royden and Williams signed their article but appropriately kept the identities of the interviewed faculty confidential. As a result, we have access to faculty views that might otherwise have remained hidden.
No War on Iran
President Trump’s justification for the assassination of Iranian and Iraqi commanders and threatened escalation to destroy Iranian cultural sites in response to any retaliation, is his unfounded claim that U.S. forces or citizens were in “imminent” danger of attack by Iran. This continues to provide a rationale for Congress authorizing $738 billion for the Pentagon – more than half the total Congressional Discretionary Budget.
The difficulties our faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows face in obtaining federal funding for key research projects is in part due to this draining of the federal budget into unneeded and unproductive financing of the war and weapons industries.
Seventy years after President Eisenhower’s warning of this danger, and 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s warning, we remain mired in the same misguided policies of militarism abroad leading to impoverishment at home.
MIT faculty and Massachusetts political leaders were instrumental in the signing of the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement with Iran. (Our valued Editorial Board member Professor Aron Bernstein, memorialized in this issue, was also a strong supporter, working through the Council for a Livable World.)
The unilateral withdrawal from the treaty with Iran by President Trump was a grievous step backwards in international affairs. However, the killing of Iranian and Iraqi commanders, together with seven others, is a criminal activity in clear violation of the United Nations Charter and other rules of international law, as well as a violation of the Constitution. If any nation in the Middle East needs chastening, it is not Iran, but Saudi Arabia with its continuing attacks on Yemeni civilians. The imposition of further sanctions on Iran is a terrible act which compares with the brutal sanctions against Iraq during the Saddam era. The demonization of Iran has had a major negative influence on the lives of Iranians living in the U.S., and on the ability of educational institutions like MIT to be able to recruit the best minds from Iran.
Happily, progressive Democrats rapidly introduced resolutions and bills into the Congress, to pull the nation back from the brink of a full-scale armed conflict. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey held a joint press conference with Mass Peace Action where he announced his letter with Representative Khanna and 22 other members of Congress, opposing President Trump’s actions and his threatened further actions against Iran. The danger of intensified war in the Middle East, with its concomitant risk of nuclear weapons use, requires all of us to speak out for diplomatic solutions to these conflicts.
Professor Aron Bernstein 1931 – 2020
Our valued Editorial Board member and Professor of Physics Aron Bernstein passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer last month. His significant contributions to MIT and society are described in Robert Redwine’s memorial. Aron remained involved in particle physics research to his last days, but never lost sight of the major dangers facing our society, and maintained his unstinting advocacy for peace and nuclear disarmament. We will miss him greatly.
FNL Officers Elected
Faculty Newsletter officers were elected at the recent winter FNL Editorial Board meeting. Professor Jonathan King was re-elected Chair; Professor Robert Berwick was elected Vice-Chair; and Professor Ceasar McDowell was elected Secretary.