MIT student newspaper stolen by campus police officers

MASSACHUSETTS — Two campus police officers at theMassachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., owned up to recycling300 issues of the student newspaper last week and have been suspended withoutpay.

The March 17 issue of the Tech featured a front-page story about anMIT police officer arrested for drug trafficking in East Boston. That afternoon,student editors learned of uniformed campus police officers trashing copies ofthe Tech in various campus locations and filed a police report. Thefollowing afternoon, two MIT police officers, represented by their union, cameforward to take responsibility for the theft.

“Newspaper theft is a serious issue as harassment, and it’seven worse when it becomes censorship,” Tech Executive EditorMichael McGraw-Herdeg said in an e-mail. “MIT police are ‘realcops’ — they carry guns and badges, and they have a warrantissued by the colonel of the Massachusetts state police. The harshest possiblereading of this incident is that it is a form of governmentcensorship.”

Police union officials apologized for the incident, and McGraw-Herdeg saidhe “believe[s] the police union assertion that this was a rash mistake,not a malicious act deliberately designed to suppress our speech.”

Kirk Kolenbrander, vice president for institute affairs at MIT, assured theTech that the school is not taking the incident lightly.

“This is a very serious matter,” the Tech reportedKolenbrander saying. “Openness of communication is of fundamentalimportance at MIT. Free and open distribution of the Tech is very muchwithin that value, and has to be treated with the highest seriousness andsensitivity.”

According to McGraw-Herdeg, the stolen issues amount to about five percentof the Tech‘s total distribution. Eight thousand copies of theTech are distributed free to various campus locations and to subscribers onTuesdays and Fridays during regular MIT class sessions. Tech editors wereable to restore a majority of the stolen papers to their proper stands.

McGraw-Herdeg said he hopes the campus police officers will not lose theirjobs over this, but wants to ensure something like this does not happenagain.

“What if the police were to censor speech of someone whocouldn’t fight back?” he said. “I hope that this incident andthe police chief’s rapid response has sent the message that this is notOK.”

According to Patti Richards, director of media relations at MIT, the twoofficers who admitted to the newspaper theft are still on leave without pay anda police investigation of the incident is currently ongoing.

McGraw-Herdeg said the Tech currently does not have atheft-protection policy — language stating only the first copy ofthe paper is free — but it is something their managing board mightdiscuss in upcoming meetings.

For More Information: 

  • SPLC Newspaper Theft Forum