At the MIT faculty meeting on October 17, 2007, two faculty members, Ken Manning and Patrick Winston, presented a motion for a vote. The immediate cause of the motion was MIT’s response to one of its students who had appeared at Logan Airport wearing a sweatshirt that sported a circuit board with tiny flashing green lights on an LED display. The student was surrounded by Massachusetts state troopers wielding MP5 sub-machine guns. The student put her hands up. The troopers lowered their guns. The student was charged with possession of a hoax device. MIT issued a public statement describing such behavior as reckless. Ken Manning and Patrick Winston presented this motion:
In light of the Star Simpson event, we, the MIT faculty, request that the MIT administration refrain from making public statements that characterize or otherwise interpret—through news office releases, legal agents, or any other means—the behavior and motives of members of the MIT community whose actions are the subject (real or potential) of pending criminal investigation. We offer this resolution to foster mutual trust within the MIT community and to promote due process for all.
One of the two authors of the motion, Patrick Winston was recorded in the minutes of the faculty meeting as having “related a personal story of how, when he was an MIT student, members of the MIT community went to significant lengths to support him, and that this contributed to his perception of MIT as an organization that is akin to an extended family.”
This is the story that Pat told on the floor of the meeting:
My own views were shaped many years ago when I was a 19 or 20 year old undergraduate here at MIT. It was October, and the previous summer I had purchased my first car, a Volkswagen, near the end of its service life. After driving it around Europe a little, I imported it. Then, it occurred to me from time to time that I should think about getting it registered in Massachusetts. But—I was busy. Then one night, or rather early on a Sunday morning, I was detained by the Wellesley police. They were upset because my car’s muffler didn’t amount to much, and they became additionally upset when they discovered my license plates were foreign and expired. I say “detained” but many years later, in the course of a routine security clearance background investigation, I found that I was considered arrested. In any case, I eventually received a summons, and a few days after that, I got a call from Chief Olivieri of the MIT campus police. He asked a few questions, and then indicated he would see me in court, which he did. When my case came up, he asked for and was granted a bench conference with the judge. I don’t know what Chief Olivieri said, but I imagine he said I was a good boy; a good student; not inclined toward reckless behavior; but just a little clueless perhaps, a common characteristic of boys just in from the corn fields of Illinois. In any case, the judge chuckled and dismissed the case. I’ve told that story many times to many people—students, staff, faculty, anyone contemplating a move to MIT. I use it to buttress my claim that MIT has always been as close to an extended family as an organization can be.… What I want is for people everywhere to say that MIT is a place that forgives—when it can; that supports—when it can; and that weeps—when it cannot.
I wrote about this event in my MIT memoir, Mens et Mania. I concluded my description this way:
I don’t think you can get a better statement of the MIT student-faculty bond unless you sing along to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.”
I wrote that almost 10 years ago. Nothing has happened to make me want to change a word of it.