Opinion open letter

A Public Letter to President Sally Kornbluth

A reminder of your inaugural address for a time such as this

Written on Monday, May 6, 2023

Dear Sally,

A year ago this week you were becoming the 18th President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I remember sitting close and hearing your speech about the possibility of MIT becoming a place where no problem is too large. And why? You said it best in your May 1, 2023 Inaugural Address with the question you raised first to all present: “What are university leaders good for?”:

“Three things – that add up to something big.

If we do those three things right, we create an environment in which every individual has the freedom and support to flourish and grow, and in which we all have a sense of community, connection and shared purpose – those human bonds that allow us to go farther and faster together than any of us could go alone.”

I believe in the power of words, especially one’s own words. Your operative words here are can and if. These words imply an ability to do something (can) and a consequence relying on that faithful execution of that ability (if). So, why aren’t you mobilizing this 3-step capacity or ability for protesting university students under your current leadership? Where are the purported “resources”? Where is the clearing of “bureaucratic boulders”? Where is the report out on “scout[ing] out the best route”? 

You’ve seen the hundreds of MIT students protesting with their bodies, you’ve heard their voices and their reasoning, and you’ve read their demand for a total divestment of MIT from the governmental state of Israel. And that should be enough, yet these courageous students have even done the administrative work of identifying what the specific MIT to Israel ties are, including the drone technology the IDF benefits from directly, the training of police forces by IDF intelligence, and so on and so forth. A significant student population is yearning for your leadership to take action based on their work and thorough vision for an MIT that is not contributing technology toward genocidal use. 

Let’s be clear – this problem did not appear on October 7, 2023 with the in-kind and murderously resistant effort by the Hamas government against the occupying forces of the Israeli government – this problem has origin a little under 80 years ago in 1948 with genocide, ethnocide, and outright massacre of the people in Palestine, called “Nakba,” by the Israeli regime. MIT’s relationship with modern day Israel as an institute of technology was always going to produce disastrous results — it was just a matter of when and how. No one chose this time to be alive, not the students and not you. But, we all have to deal with life on life’s terms. There’s no place for pride, only humility. There’s no place for fear, only love. You’ve been chosen by fate to play this role today, a privilege that calls for both humility and gratitude.

Instead of respect for the intelligence of the students and a multi-faceted approach to clarifying and establishing their demands, you and your administration are more focused on silencing. I’ve written extensively about this topic and will leave that explanation in those writings, but I come now because of what I said to you when we first spoke that warm Spring day of celebration and your new beginning. 

After your inaugural address, you walked down the aisle toward the line of folks waiting for you. I interjected early to shake your hand, take a picture, and told you from my own wealth of experience fighting for justice at MIT under your predecessor’s leadership (and members of your current team) that the best advice I could give you was to listen to the MIT students. I remember telling you that you have to trust them, because they are the beneficiaries of this MIT experience and that their hearts and minds are what make this place what it is. After all, college is an experiment and the students give the best data for analysis. I am beyond disappointed in how blatantly you’ve forgotten the meaning behind these words. The academic suspensions and other disciplinary actions you’ve sanctioned, including the series of other violent acts you’ve taken against your own students reveal an eerily familiar playbook of facism that has no place in this world, and no place at MIT. 

For me to offer a solution would be arrogant at best. So, instead I’ll give you back your final words in your inaugural address as a path forward, because I agree with them:

“Importantly, curiosity is also the one and only path to understanding one another – to empathy and appreciation and mutual respect. In effect, curiosity is the indispensable first step in both collaboration and community.

Today, the problems before us – the problems of human society, and of its only planet so far – require that we harness our curiosity in exceptionally productive ways. The people of MIT have always wanted to know how things work, and how we can be part of big solutions. Now, it’s imperative that we know – and that we help lead the world to action.”

So, get more curious. It takes immense courage to do what students under your leadership are doing and at the time they are doing it. Students would much rather be focused on their chosen course of study. Graduating students would much rather be excited for Commencement. But, the times have chosen all of us to do something. 

Please don’t disrespect their efforts by not treating students as the brave souls they are. Ask more questions in an effort toward collaboration. Don’t give into propaganda and noise from others. MIT is in your hands and history will view it that way, as well. And when it gets tough, take your words as goal posts: 

  1. Provision the trip for your students’ clear demands as Scientists Against Genocide. 

  2. Clear the bureaucratic boulders stifling progress toward an actionable plan of divestment; and

  3. Scout out the best route for scaling this “[tough] peak” that accompanies any multi-million dollar divestment plan.

It’s as simple as 1-2-3; and the good news is you wrote the steps. It’s time for you to lead us and the world at-large into a brighter future where “every individual has the freedom and support to flourish and grow, and in which we all have a sense of community, connection and shared purpose.”

Can we count on you to join us?

In Solidarity,


Kelvin Green II ’24 is a writer boasting 10+ opinion editorials in The Tech during his time on campus. He has also worked closely to affect change with undergraduate, graduate, staff, faculty, and administrative leadership.