Some 20 students and professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are demanding the cancellation of a three-day celebration for a new computer center. They say a businessman who funded it has advised President Donald Trump and hosted the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, among other things, according to the Boston Globe.
The students and professors also are calling on the college to apologize for inviting former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to campus on Feb. 28 to speak during the event.
In an opinion piece in an MIT student publication, they said: “In addition to his well-known role in prolonging the Vietnam War, Kissinger also orchestrated secret bombing campaigns in Cambodia and Laos.
“Kissinger remains unrepentant for his role in bloody invasions, bombings, and coups.”
Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group investment firm, gave $350 million to MIT for The Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, which is opening next week.
The opinion piece says the group is concerned about Schwarzman advising President Donald Trump, opposing an affordable housing measure in California and hosting the Saudi crown prince.
MIT has publicly thanked Schwarzman for his “encouragement, insight and visionary support.”
The group's opinion piece said: "Last spring, Schwarzman hosted the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) — a war criminal in charge of a repressive monarchy — after Blackstone received a $20 billion investment from his government. All the while, millions of Yemenis are suffering from starvation and disease as a consequence of the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition’s assaults."
MIT Provost Martin Schmidt says the launch of The Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing will celebrate an historic moment for MIT and allow for many voices to explore the social impacts of artificial intelligence.
The Globe quoted a statement by Schmidt that defended celebrating the computer center.
“Following last fall’s announcement of the new MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, President [Rafael] Reif and I decided to create an event for the launch that would not only celebrate this historic moment for MIT but provide opportunities to consider the most important issues around AI [Artificial Intelligence] and its impact on society,” Schmidt said in the statement. “The resulting program includes an impressive range of visionaries from within the MIT community, as well as outside experts, luminaries and other public figures. Nearly 50 speakers across three days are scheduled to participate, with an additional 140 exceptional poster presentations from MIT student teams in response to the Computing Connections challenges.”
As for Kissinger, Schmidt's statement said: “Last summer, Dr. Henry Kissinger wrote a provocative reflection for The Atlantic that addressed his views on the ethics and dangers of artificial intelligence, topics directly relevant to the launch program. We hope the event will allow for many voices to explore the social impacts of AI, an issue that matters deeply to MIT and that bears on the challenges we aim to address with the College."
A Blackstone spokeswoman said artificial intelligence should be addressed with urgency and "should transcend politics," and Schwarzman is proud to support the institution as it tackles the evolution of technology.
The group objecting to Schwarzman and Kissinger said in its opinion piece: “Underlying the whole of this is MIT’s growing quest for private sponsorship, military contracts, and the wrong kind of prestige.”
The group said it would hold an event on Feb. 26 to counter the three-day celebration if the university did not cancel it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.