MIT Flyer Distribution Policy Raises Dispute

Student Told to Stop Passing Out Flyers by CAC

A policy regarding students passing out flyers on campus was called into question yesterday, after a student passing out sheets outside a meeting was told by a Campus Activities Complex employee that he was unwelcome.

Kayvan Zainabadi G said that he was outside a meeting presented by Fidelity Investment on MIT’s 401K quarterly report, passing out informational flyers from the Fidelity Out of Sudan group that alleged that Fidelity is “funding genocide in Darfur.” The meeting was held at noon in Twenty Chimneys, on the third floor of the Student Center, he said.

After handing out about 15 flyers, a CAC employee told him that he couldn’t pass out promotional material. Zainabadi said he told the employee that he was not promoting anything. Soon after, according to Zainabadi, Linda D. Noel, assistant dean for Student Activities, came to talk to him. He said that she told him that he needed to reserve a table in order to pass out promotional material. Zainabadi said that Noel also told him that normally he would be kicked out of the Student Center for his activities.

The employee’s name is not known. Noel did not respond immediately to a request for comment yesterday.

MIT Campus Police Sergeant Clarence A. Henniger said that students hoping to pass out information sheets or leaflets on campus usually have to get permission to do so.

Zainabadi, who has actively campaigned for MIT’s divestment from companies that are invested in the Sudanese government and authored a petition calling for the Institute’s divestment, maintains that he was not being disruptive. He said that he asked Noel if “people without a table cannot express themselves.”

He said that he spoke with several deans yesterday, including Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict, Arnold R. Henderson, Jr., associate dean and co-director of Student Support Services, and Douglas W. Pfeiffer, assistant dean for finance and administration in the school of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Benedict is still investigating the situation and the policy surrounding it, but said that the “policy is not as clear as it needs to be.”

According to “Use of Facilities,” listed in the “MIT Policies and Procedures,” “facilities are not available to individuals but only to academic departments, administrative offices, and officially recognized student, faculty, staff, and employee organizations.” It is not clear if this definition includes the space outside of reservable rooms.

In an e-mail that Zainabadi provided to The Tech, Noel wrote that “CAC and SAO are willing to review individual students’ requests to use the space on a case-by-case basis, but we do ask that you come to us first to ask.”

She added that “It is not our policy to advertise this option, because it is important to us to maintain the integrity and privileges of becoming a recognized organization through ASA, and we make the exception in limited and deserving cases.”

Benedict said that he has asked Noel, Phillip J. Walsh, director of the CAC, and Laura Capone, senior associate dean in the Division of Student Life, to clarify where students can and cannot pass out information. There is “no reason [Zainabadi] should know about this,” Benedict said, referring to the exception Noel indicated. He has also asked Noel, Walsh, and Capone to “make it clear that students can reserve tables.”

Walsh and Capone did not respond immediately to a request for comment yesterday.

In June 2004, Aimee L. Smith PhD ’02 was arrested by Campus Police while leafletting near the entrance to Killian Court at the 2004 Commencement ceremonies. At that time, Chief John DiFava said that Smith caused a scene and “broke into a diatribe.” Smith said then that she questioned the police by asking things like, “Isn’t this a democracy?”

Fidelity subject of flyer

According to the “Summary Plan Description for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Supplemental 401(k) Plan,” which is available from the MIT Human Resources Web site, Fidelity handles the MIT Supplemental 401(k) Plan. According to the group Fidelity Out of Sudan, Fidelity “is the single largest public investor in PetroChina” and that “a partial list of Fidelity’s Sinopec ownership shows at least $99 million.”

The group alleges that these “two Chinese oil companies that are funding the genocide in Darfur.” The flyer Zainabadi was passing out alleges that “Sudan’s oil revenue provides arms and funding for the genocide, rather than development for the the poor people of Sudan.”

Administrative assistant Stephen J. Pepper and David M. Rosenberg, senior analyst programmer for Information Services and Technology, both of whom are working with Zainabadi on the Fidelity Out of Sudan campaign, attended the meeting. Pepper said that he saw Zainabadi in conversation with two people. Rosenberg said that he heard a woman with a walkie-talkie tell Zainabadi that he could not be outside the meeting room.

Rosenberg added that he offered to distribute some flyers inside the meeting room, but the same woman told him that it was not clear that he could make the flyers available in the room.

Rosenberg said that Paul Gunning, Fidelity Investments senior retirement counselor, told him that he could distribute the sheets, so he left them on a chair in the room. Rosenberg also said that he talked with both Gunning and Roland Jacobson, vice president of investment consulting for Fidelity, about Fidelity’s investment in PetroChina and Sinopec. He said that both men expressed their familiarity with the issue.

Neither Gunning nor Jacobson could be immediately contacted yesterday.

According to the Fidelity Out of Sudan Web site, Fidelity responded to the issue in an Oct. 5, 2006 letter, writing that “Fidelity portfolio managers make their investment decisions based on business and financial considerations, and take into account other issues only if they materially impact these considerations or conflict with applicable legal standards.”

Also on the Web site is a reference to a Jan. 29, 2007 article on CNN Money by Marc Gunther, a Fortune senior writer, in which Fidelity is quoted as saying that “We believe the resolution of complex social and political issues must be left to the appropriate authorities of the world that have the responsibility, and capability, to address important matters of this type. And we would sincerely hope that they would do so wisely on behalf of all of the citizens of the globe.”