MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXXII No. 2
November / December 2019
The Right to Vote; Prof. Woodie Flowers;
Undermining the Institute Professorships
A Bookstore Without Books
“A Peculiar MIT Concoction”:
Our System of Faculty Governance – Part I
The Schwarzman College of Computing: Giving Back
Woodie Flowers
Unintended Downsides to Recent Changes
to the P/NR Policy
What We and Our Students Value
A Peek Inside the Random Faculty Dinners
Comments at MIT Institute Faculty Meeting
September 18, 2019
An Open Letter to MIT Department Heads
Reflections on Epstein and MIT
Update on MIT’s Open Access Policy and
Continued Negotiations With Publishers
2019-2020 Academic Calendar Changes
Angered By Recent FNL Editorial
Back in 1949
Campus Research Expenditures FY 2019 (%)
Campus Research Expenditures FY 2019 ($)
Printable Version

Reflections on Epstein and MIT

Alexander Slocum

I believe the Sad Epstein Events are a symptom of a serious disease that affects many “leading” institutions. This is a complex and sad situation we should be able to clearly see, and thus perhaps MIT could lead the world by opening our records, hearts, and minds. At our September Faculty Meeting held in the Student Center, we heard that many of us fundamentally believe the root of our problems is the never-ending quest to be bigger, better. . . . Indeed, that’s the root of humanity’s issues that have led us to perhaps imminent climate collapse. Close to home that translates to the perpetual quest to be #1, which ultimately has led to the quest to raise more money by any means available.

This has created an atmosphere amongst far too many in our ranks to do whatever they think should be done, regardless of the true spirit of MIT, to be labeled better. But labels are easily peeled off to reveal a container that is not really full. For example, how would you feel about a senior leadership person at MIT who says in an email (amazing the way people send things on and do not bother to read the long trail of emails attached) to another senior leadership person at MIT:

“I know committees are painful, but sometimes people need to feel as if they had a say in arriving at a solution, and it is almost more time (and energy) to fight that . . . .”

The fact that this quote is not related to the Epstein issue indicates that we may have what looks to be a big wonderful tree that bears much knowledge of fruit, and we have very deep roots, but the trunk has some rot that threatens the core health and vitality of the tree.

To think deeper about this, I went on some long runs . . . and reflected on my life at MIT, how it and the world have been changing. I conclude that the most fundamental challenge we face is the positive feedback loop which we have created for ourselves (which we geeks know is unstable), which is fed by the quest for money to enable us to prove we are bigger and thus better. To this end we must change, go back to our roots, and rebuild from the ground up.

MIT must lead, not follow, else our foundation becomes shallow

1. We must denounce all collegiate rankings. MIT is only #1 for those who cherish and relish our core focus, which is the quest for deterministic logical, moral, and ethical thinking with the goal of having a positive impact on the world.

    a. College rankings are bad because in the attempt to boil down a complex thing into a simple number, they drive people in colleges to do sad things in an attempt to raise their ranking . . . AND students (& parents!) too often pick a school based on its ranking, not necessarily for what best meets their needs and goals. 

    b. MIT must from now on never acknowledge in any way any ranking number assigned to us, NOR must any MIT people participate in ranking other universities. Instead we will post on our website what our graduates do after they leave, as should all schools, and let prospective students decide for themselves if the school is right for them.

2. All of us must pledge to continually reflect, evolve, and be true to what we all need to be: NICE. We must each do our part to personally evolve and to remove from MIT policies and people driven by greed and short-term gain. ALL should watch “Miracle on 34th Street” over and over until the message sinks in! I would also like to suggest more community social events such as Monthly Moral Movie Nights followed by Walk & Talks, Trot & Talks, Chew & Chats. . . . Chances to really get to know and respect each other. . . .

3. We must create a new Office of Moral Guidance (OMG) which will be comprised of willing-to-evolve members of the Office of General Counsel (OGC) and leaders of multiple theologies most concerned about the future of humanity and MIT. Every OGC opinion given to the Administration is accompanied by thoughts from the OMG.

4. Our leaders must all actually teach (or help teach) classes or cook meals for students, or coach students at academic, artistic, or athletic events. By spending quality time doing things with students, their hearts and minds will be invigorated, leading to new levels of endorphins to enable happier more creative thinking to solve pernicious pesky problems.

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An important context reference is the poem I wrote (fortunately it was international talk like a pirates day) during the faculty meeting with fresh new President Reif when then Provost Kaiser announced his plans for Kendall Square:

Avast yee Tech Geekies
Let’s show the world we are not just a bunch of mental freakies

Let’s think big and earn and show our worth
by helping to save the planet Earth

It starts centuries ago with the Charters of Freedom1 were written
So all citizens of a new country could be free to think and speak and not be smitten

With our minds we at MIT designed special environmental encasements
With our hands we made them and installed the original Charters in these emplacements

These great original Charters are now on display for all to see
So people can learn how to be truly free

These documents have infinite potential power
With them true freedom to think and do can flower

But they are also very fragile
For they are useless if kept hidden and the citizens are in denial

The same can be said for MIT
As it is the supposed place for great thinkers to be

Complete openness and debate must happen apriori
Our leaders, who come from us, must not rule by decree

Open debate and welcoming of questions is not enough
It takes vision, compassion, humility and acting without vengeance to be truly tough

For anything that affects how we work and live
True leaders must not take, but give

So here’s to our new fearless leader President and Professor Rafael Reif!

It was at this time, however, that Rafael signed the gift acknowledgment letter that began the series of events that have come to haunt him and our community. If only all members of the Administration had paid attention!

On 18 September 2019 I attended the faculty meeting with friends, faculty, and regular folks. Before us was a person who the MIT community had just helped celebrate his 69th birthday with an amazing collection of positive thoughts put forth on Lobby 7 Column Posters. And now President Reif stood before us all. But this time we came to thrash Rafael, not to praise him. It was his time for prayaschittha2 , and he took a severe lashing with I believe great humility, sincere sadness and an open mind and heart. While memory of the evil that he has overseen will live on after him, the good things he has done must not also be interred.

One by one, many people said many things from helpful to hurtful, and all were sincere and justified. As people spoke I watched him… I saw his soul cry “Oh my God, what have I done.” As the words lashed out, I added many to those I myself had come to speak and this is what I then said when it was my turn:

In the continual quest for milk and honey
We sadly traded our principles for money
And now we must strengthen our fundamental roots
And grow & nurture new blossoms and shoots

The truth eventually we all will come to know
So let us all promise to continually reflect, evolve and grow
We must look out and care for each other
With the love of a father & mother

For too often actions are ok’d with a legal wink and nod
that later come to light and make us exclaim “Oh My God!”
And in response some will propose many a well-meaning contrivance
Let us now gather them in a new all-important Office of Moral Guidance

These words are few, but I hope inclusive of the many thoughts and feelings expressed by others at this meeting, and I hope this time, those in his Administration will listen and think deeply. My hope is that as we begin healing, we must judge not, else we will be judged; we must condemn not, lest we be condemned; and we must forgive, lest we not be forgiven (from Luke 6:37). I pray these words will help set up a resonance in our community that will evolve, grow, spread . . . lead to real positive change.

Indeed in my many years here (since 1978!) I have experienced cold hardness balanced by warm softness, and myself took some deep time to reflect more on the above as I ran the Berlin Marathon on September 29. I ran in a city that was once the capital of hate and is now the capital of a great nation that opened its doors to millions cast out, and that warmth tempered the cold rain in which I ran.

In closing I just want to share a source of strength and hope with all the women (and men like me) who feel sad, hurt, abused, unloved, cheapened… by the evil that was done, and are wondering what to do now… that helped my mother (Marianna Polonsky Slocum (1955)) when times were dark: “Footprints in the Sand” (author unknown), and “I Am Woman” (Helen Reddy). From these I pray for ‘afw3 we hope we have a chance to do better, and if by ourselves pardoning others and give them a chance to do better, we all become wiser and stronger.

1USA founding documents

2Penance (Hinduism)

3Forgiveness (Islam)

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