What role, if any, do you feel you played in MIT’s parenting responsibility?
It is certainly true that MIT has a “parenting responsibility.” That responsibility is self-imposed, by the way. After all, MIT could have organized itself far differently with students living off campus and fending for their personal needs--lodging, food, medical, transportation, safety, etc.--on their own. But it didn’t.
I suppose, then, that in the eyes of the students I was a surrogate parent. I didn’t mean to be. Nor did I want to be. And, whenever possible, I tried not to be. But the nature of the place forces students, faculty and administration into certain roles. Those roles change as the culture changes, but in the 1980’s, it is very likely that I was seen as “surrogate parent” and the students that I had to contend with saw themselves as trying to free themselves from parental authority.
Was this notion of “Don’t tell me what to do” shocking to you or the general faculty in contrast to the students’ intellectual maturity in the classroom, or do you believe this aggressive attitude was displayed in the classroom as well?
“Don’t tell me what to do” had no place in an MIT classroom. It was, in my opinion, a reaction to what went on there. The students were highly constrained by the curriculum. The teachers were world-class researchers. They knew their subjects cold. The students didn’t. That’s what they were there, to match insofar as possible the expertise of their teachers. That is not an easy thing to do. “Don’t tell me what to do,” then, was the driving principle behind everything that was non-academic, the dorm, the dining room, the extracurricular activities like pornography and steer roast. It was a reaction to the pressure of the classroom. Hacking is a more creative and benign form of “Don’t Tell Me What to Do.”