MIT Prof Announces Plans for Swartz Review

A website is launched allowing for discussion of how his case was handled

The death of Aaron Swartz has led to deep introspection on the part of the MIT community. Professor Hal Abelson, one of the founders of Creative Commons and a supporter of open access to the internet, has been asked to lead an oversight panel and yesterday, he released a statement outlining his intentions. Here's a snippet:

This matter is urgently serious for MIT. The world respects us not only for our scholarship and our science, but because we are an institution whose actions are and always have been guided by the highest ideals and the most thoughtful judgment. Our commitment to those ideals is now coming into question. At last Saturday’s memorial, Aaron’s partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman described his mental state: “He faced indifference from MIT, an institution that could have protected him with a single public statement and refused to do so, in defiance of all of its own most cherished principles.”

I don’t know—we don’t know—if that’s accurate or fair. But it demands our response. I hope this review can provide some insight into what MIT did or didn’t do, and why.

Reading the entire letter gives a full sense of how serious the university—and Abelson—will treat the investigation. And that's heartening. In his letter, Abelson also noted the creation of a website where users can raise questions about how Swartz's case was handled. It's a move that's in keeping with MIT's culture of openness, and one that we ought to see more of when it comes to how universities respond to difficult situations that require internal audits (I'm looking at you, BU). MIT seems rightly concerned that its reputation is damaged by its role in the Swartz case, but perhaps one the outcomes of this process will help set a new standard for open, honest discussion of campus trouble that other universities can learn from.

Janelle Nanos
Janelle Nanos Janelle Nanos, Contributor