Task Force on Campus Security Presents Initial Findings, by John R. Curry, Executive Vice President, MIT
Working Group Focuses on Information Policy and Privacy, by Robert P. Redwine, Dean For Undergraduate Education and Professor of Physics, MIT
From the MIT Faculty Newsletter, January/February 2002
Charles M. Vest
The following was written at the invitation of the Editorial Committee for this issue.
The first month of this academic year brought to us a stark, terrifying reality. More than 3,000 ordinary people going about their daily lives in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania were brutally and purposefully murdered by a group of dedicated, well-organized, and ideologically-driven people. This horrific act brought a strong military response intended to root out those behind the attacks and to reduce the ability of them or others to mount such actions in the future.
Here at MIT we were, and are, directly affected by this reality. Members of our own community alumni, friends, family members, and professional colleagues were killed. Others feared retribution because of their religion, culture, or nationality. Our collective and individual talents and expertise have been sought to combat terrorism and protect our nations human life and infrastructure. Our campus is a potential target of terrorists. We deal daily with materials that could be used for malevolent purposes.
In my view we have much to be proud of in our communal response to this point, but many issues and opportunities remain before us.
MIT students, faculty, and staff responded rapidly, humanely, and professionally in the days and weeks following September 11th and they did so with a wonderful sense of community spirit and common purpose. There was a healthy balance of administrative, individual, and group effort, involving both careful planning and spontaneity.
There are literally hundreds of people who made important contributions, but I would like in particular to note and express deep appreciation for the leadership and organizational accomplishments of Chancellor Phil Clay, Vice President Kathryn Willmore, and Faculty Chair Steve Graves. They set the tone, listened to what was needed, and did so much to keep our community together and supported during that extraordinary time. Executive Vice President John Curry and his team mobilized rapidly to coordinate key security measures and maintain strong liaison with law enforcement agencies at all levels.
But it was the spontaneous upwelling of thoughtful actions that stands out in my mind: The gathering of 5,000 faculty, students, and staff in Killian Court on September 12th, facilitated by scores of people from throughout the campus. Professors in Architecture and Planning conceiving and designing the Reflecting Wall, evocative of the windows of the World Trade Center, and the workers from the Facilities Department who almost instantly created it as a place of reflection, contemplation, and prayer. The campus Muslim community, which created dinners and forums where others in our community could learn more about one of the worlds great enduring faiths. The members of the Center for International Studies, who established extraordinary forums to provide information, education, perspectives, and open discussion. The Office of the Vice President for Human Resources, which quickly informed our employees of our supportive policies for those members of the National Guard who might be called to active duty. The students, faculty, and staff who organized responsible, thoughtful rallies to express their views against violence.
We should celebrate the work of our housemasters, residential assistants, GRAs, counseling deans, and others on the staff and faculty who worked tirelessly to provide support and a sense of security to all students. Their work was especially important for those Muslim and other students who felt a natural sense of concern about safety and understanding.
These are just some of the myriad ways in which the people of MIT responded to the events of September 11th. But one note rang clear and true: the sense of mutual caring and respect with which people supported one another, explored and debated the issues, and tried to come to terms with the ways in which our lives have changed.
Now what are we doing to plan for the future? In the wake of the attacks, we convened two formal groups: the Task Force on Campus Security and the Committee on Protection of Human Life and Infrastructure.
The Task Force, chaired by John Curry, organized its work around three themes:
In each of these areas we have drawn extensively on expertise and perspectives within our faculty; we have also consulted with administrators across MIT and with outside specialists and government agencies. In conducting the work of these groups and implementing their recommendations, we have tried to keep the focus on what is most important, as well as what is practical and effective. Our goal is to improve the substance and sense of security on campus, while maintaining a healthy environment for living, research, and study. This requires a delicate balance between security and the freedom and openness that are essential to a great university.
John Curry talks in more detail about the work of the Task Force in another article in this issue of the Faculty Newsletter. Here I would like to place particular emphasis on the question of information, of privacy, openness, and access. Universities are based on the free flow of diverse ideas, people, and beliefs. To this point in time, we have maintained these values. Indeed, our self-examination has only enhanced our awareness of how important our freedoms and values are. The Task Force concluded that MITs existing policies on access to information, such as that regarding our students and visitors, are still appropriate and workable in the wake of September 11th. They also meet the requirements of current legislation. In essence, MIT will continue to provide only directory information about students and visitors; as we have always done, we will, of course, comply with requests for additional information when accompanied by a proper court order.
I do not believe there is an inherent conflict between national security and an appropriately open educational environment. Members of the MIT community are engaged in several working groups in Washington that will help shape new laws and policies that will impinge on the activities of universities. To date, these discussions have been quite collegial. Nonetheless, we must and will remain vigilant with respect to specific proposals.
To the best of our knowledge, only a few members of the MIT community have been interviewed by law enforcement officials in association with the investigations of terrorist-related activities. We recommend that members of our community cooperate with legitimate investigations, but we have promulgated detailed information about the appropriate conduct of such interviews and the rights of individuals with respect to them. Copies of these guidelines are available from the International Scholars Office or the International Students Office.
As we have in the past, we are working cooperatively with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the State Department regarding the maintenance and processing of minimal directory information about students and visitors from other countries who enter the U.S. for the purpose of studying or conducting scholarly research at MIT. These discussions offer important opportunities to speak to the value of free intellectual exchange and of an environment that draws on and fosters a diversity of people and ideas.
Just as we must look to our security and values, we also hold in trust some of the nations best brainpower and technological expertise. In my view, we have an institutional responsibility to make them available to combat terrorism. MITs mission statement charges us to bring knowledge to bear on the worlds great challenges, and historically this has been one of the Institutes defining roles.
Such work can and should take place at many levels ranging from the root causes of terrorism through the development of technical countermeasures and strategies for protection. There are many direct and important technological contributions that we could make to this effort, but I hope that we can also apply some distinctive new thought to this complex problem. Can we develop new systems-level understanding and action? Can we integrate our understandings of culture, religion, and society with our technical capabilities?
I have asked the Committee on Protection of Human Life and Infrastructure, co-chaired by Associate Provost Claude Canizares and Vice President for Research and Associate Provost Alice Gast, to think through these matters and also to act as a clearing house for ideas proposed by faculty members and groups. The Task Force is to report to the Provost.
Two thousand and one is an iconic year. Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick imagined that it would be remembered as a time when computers became nearly human, and when everyday passengers would board spacecraft and drift gracefully to our colony on the moon. We would discover a monolith emblematic of the eternal truths of life in our universe.
In reality, last year will be remembered for the day when aircraft carrying everyday passengers took off five miles from our campus and then pierced our proudest buildings, ending the lives of thousands of innocent people who were going about their daily business.
We discovered in 2001 that the eternal truths are more elemental than the images of a space odyssey: that evil is bred by ignorance, poverty, and absolutism . . . and that our own technology can be turned against us by the crudest actions of determined people.
This has been a dark time, and it has cried out for new understandings and actions. I hope that we can and will provide some of them.