Sit in at MIT 1969/70. Courtesy of MIT Museum.

Sit in at MIT 1969/70. Courtesy of MIT Museum.

On 17 May 2016, George Katsiaficas kindly replied as follows to my e-mail request that he check over my manuscript. I reproduce here his comments with his permission.

 

Hello Chris,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your book, which appears to be a very tightly conceived and clearly written project. I only had time to read the pages which you sent to me as the email attachment.

To summarize, I think your coverage of Noam is compassionate but that you need to better portray the complexity of MIT’s “libertarianism”.

Noam Chomsky and I share great libertarian values.  You seem not to be aware of this since you wrote (in reference to the disruption of Walt Rostow’s talk) "We do not know what George Katsiaficas thought at the time, …” I was at the speech that was disrupted, and I was very upset with those student radicals (among whom I did not count myself yet) who chose to stop Rostow’s talk.  After the event, we argued passionately, long into the night, and as a result I became friends with these radicals and ultimately joined their circles. Yet I retained my libertarian values – and still do.

The example I proudly point to is my defense of Joseph Mlot-Mroz, a man we called Joe the Polish freedom fighter, a right-wing anti-Semitic lonely protester who showed up at all of our demonstrations with huge signs reading “Stop the Jewish-Communist Conspiracy.” One day, when we were having a meeting in Kresge Auditorium with hundreds of people, the MIT campus police suddenly arrested Joe for being on campus outside the auditorium. As they had him face down on the grass, I knocked two of the policeman over and attempted to free Joe from their grasp. (I had been designated as being in charge of security for our event and acted on my own initiative.)

For my actions, my fellow radicals were very quick to criticize me, and the MIT administration brought campus charges against me and attempted to expel me. At the disciplinary hearing, again at Kresge Auditorium, hundreds of people showed up and prevented the hearing from moving forward, at which point MIT, thoroughly embarrassed by my standing up for Joe’s right to speak, dropped the charges against me.

While you maintain that MIT defended libertarian values,  clearly that was not the case in this particular incident.  

Secondly, you repeat the statement that some of us disrupted classes, an action for which I was one of the two students so accused and sentenced to prison for two months (which you note). However much it may have been said that we disrupted classes, we did not. Let me explain. It was and is an MIT accepted practice that students and members of the community may enter a classroom and ask the instructor’s permission to make brief announcements of campus events. This can occur as many as three or four times during any class.

When the office of the president was occupied, emotions ran high on campus, particularly among those who regarded as sacrosanct institutional hierarchy, especially the authority of the president. Peter Bohmer and I entered three classrooms to announce a meeting for members of the MIT community to discuss the occupation of the president.

In two of the classrooms, the professors recognized me and immediately screamed at me, put their hands on me and expelled me from the room. I did not resist and left, as did Peter. In the third classroom, the professor asked me by name to leave the leaflet I was carrying so he could make the announcement at the end of class. He explained there was a mathematics quiz in the next class and that he needed to keep the focus. I left our leaflet for him and exited immediately.

At our trial in Superior Court, the two professors who had expelled me (technically assaulted me) testified that I disrupted their classes. The third professor was not allowed to testify on a motion from an MIT attorney who assisted the district attorney in the prosecution. This third professor’s testimony would have clearly shown that our intent was not to disrupt or even to remain in the classroom if so requested by the professor. If we did not intend to disrupt classes, we should have been found innocent under the law. Not only did MIT silence the third professor, but he was subsequently not rehired (he did not have tenure and was part-time, as I recall). 

Again these are not the actions of a libertarian institution.

Howard Johnson’s special assistant was a wonderful man named Constantine Simonidis. He was my friend, as was Howard Johnson before I joined Rosa Luxembourg SDS. (Johnson had given me a full presidential scholarship after my freshman year.)

After my mother was also sent to prison, Constantine was able to secure her early release from the notorious Charles Street prison after she spent a week locked up. Although MIT issued an injunction preventing me from returning to campus after I was released from prison, I made inquiries about why MIT had so viciously prosecuted us, and here is what I learned was the reason: On a cold winter night, we had had a demonstration marching throughout campus that ended at the president’s house on the Charles River. One of the more rambunctious members of the parade climbed onto a ledge and peered into a window on the second floor.

Apparently, by chance, he was looking directly at the partially clothed wife of president Howard Johnson, who was startled and frightened by the unkempt appearance of a stranger whom she must’ve thought was attempting to break into her bedroom. It is understandable that the president directed his underlings to take actions against those deemed the leaders of such a raucous group, but that would not be the action of a libertarian or even liberal leader. Howard Johnson could have called me up and asked what happened. He had previously called me to request that I be the only undergraduate on the commission that investigated the special laboratories.

For more on Howard Johnson, see my review of his book, Holding the Center: Memoirs of a Life in Higher Education by Howard Johnson, (M.I.T. Press, 1999) in New Political Science, March 2002.

Available at: http://eroseffect.com/articles/holdingthecenter.pdf

I hope you will consider updating your discourse on MIT, even if only in a footnote.

Best wishes,

George