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MIT Suspends, Evicts MBA Student Zeno for Pro-Palestinian Protest Participation

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has come under scrutiny after suspending and evicting a second-year MBA student, Zeno, for participating in pro-Palestinian protests on campus. The interim suspension, effective immediately, has left Zeno and his daughter in a precarious housing situation, highlighting broader issues around student activism, due process, and university policies.

MIT Suspends, Evicts MBA Student Zeno for Pro-Palestinian Protest Participation

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Marco Almbauer)

Immediate Suspension and Housing Crisis

Zeno, identified only by his surname for privacy reasons, received a notification on May 8 about his interim suspension, which barred him from campus and required him to vacate his on-campus housing. Initially, he and other suspended students were given a week to leave, but this short notice exacerbated an already difficult housing market in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is over $4,000 per month.

With his wife out of town and his disabled daughter dependent on a specialized education program nearby, Zeno faced significant challenges finding suitable accommodation on short notice. The situation became more dire when he realized that potential rentals within their price range were either too small or in poor condition. He expressed dissatisfaction with a $3,000-a-month apartment they found, describing it as affordable but in poor condition for his daughter.

READ MORE: MIT President Sally Kornbluth Unveils Initiatives To Address Campus Challenges Amid Israel-Hamas Conflict 

Protest and Disciplinary Actions

The suspension notice indicated that Zeno's conduct at the May 6 protest was under investigation. MIT administrators accused him of violating multiple policies, including those related to disorderly conduct, property damage, and misuse of campus facilities. Zeno admitted to participating in the rally but contended that the disciplinary measures were excessive and lacked due process. Zeno argued that the interim suspensions are having lasting effects, emphasizing the need for due process before imposing long-term punishments.

MIT's actions are part of a broader trend as pro-Palestinian encampments have led to suspensions and expulsions at various universities across the United States. Notably, Barnard College evicted over 50 student protesters following a police sweep of an encampment on Columbia University's campus. Although Barnard later allowed most suspended students to return, the initial punitive measures raised questions about the balance between maintaining order and respecting students' rights.

Legal and Institutional Responses

The legal ramifications of MIT's decision to evict students without a court order have also come under scrutiny. Attorneys Lee D. Goldstein and Jeffrey M. Feuer, representing the National Lawyers Guild, argued that the university's actions violated tenant protection laws in Massachusetts. They asserted that MIT needed a court order to evict the students legally and demanded the suspension notices' eviction orders be rescinded.

Meanwhile, MIT defended its decision, citing the need to maintain campus safety and order. In a FAQ on the university's website, administrators explained that the encampment infringed on others' rights and posed potential safety risks. The university emphasized that interim measures were necessary to prevent further misconduct and protect the community's well-being.

However, critics argue that the university's response has been disproportionate and lacks transparency. Brian Glick, treasurer for the Association of Student Conduct Administration, stated that interim actions should be exceptions rather than the rule, used infrequently and only in extreme circumstances. He highlighted the importance of following institutional policies and ensuring that each case is considered individually.

Looking Forward

Zeno's hearing is scheduled for this week, and he hopes to contest the charges and mitigate the immediate consequences of his suspension. Meanwhile, other students, like first-year electrical engineering graduate student Prahlad Iyengar, have already been forced to leave their on-campus housing. Iyengar, who moved into a friend's basement, criticized the lack of support from MIT during the eviction process. He noted that no university officials reached out to help him find alternative housing or move his belongings.

The controversy at MIT underscores the challenges universities face in balancing disciplinary actions with students' rights and needs. As institutions navigate the complexities of student activism and campus safety, the need for clear policies, due process, and compassionate responses becomes increasingly evident. For students like Zeno and Iyengar, the hope remains that their universities will uphold these principles while addressing the root causes of their protests.

RELATED ARTICLE: MIT Eliminates Diversity Statement Requirement For Faculty Applications, Embracing Academic Freedom And Inclusive Practices 

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