MIT cuts ties with retired prof amid allegations he sexually harassed woman online

The Tech reports retired professor Walter Lewin is no longer allowed near the school's online course platform.

MIT issued a statement:

MIT’s action comes in response to a complaint it received in October from a woman, who is an online MITx learner, claiming online sexual harassment by Lewin. She provided information about Lewin’s interactions with her, which began when she was a learner in one of his MITx courses, as well as information about interactions between Lewin and other women online learners. ...

Based on its investigation, MIT has determined that Lewin’s behavior toward the complainant violated the Institute’s policy on sexual harassment. Following broad consultation among faculty, MIT is indefinitely removing Lewin’s online courses, in the interest of preventing any further inappropriate behavior.



    Free tagging: 


    What is the point

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    of removing his class videos? I understand the need to prevent him from contact with students but why not leave up the videos? They are valuable and well done teaching materials.


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    What MIT did will seem like a slap on the wrist compared to what the fashion police is going to do to him.

    Nothing compared to...

    ...the guy that landed the hovercraft on that meteor 300 million miles away that wore that shirt with the chicks with the space ray guns on it.

    Book Burning for the 21st century

    MIT's actions are shameful. There is no excuse for destroying the works of anyone, and that's essentially what they are doing by taking them offline. Small minded political actions such as book burning hurt the entire society.

    False Equivalency

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    MIT is a private university not a public library. They are making a private resource available to the public, but they have no obligation to do so. Professor Lewin is free to post content elsewhere.

    If you read the article you will see they're leaving some of the content up for those students who were using it as a review resource for this term.

    Unless you were recently a

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    Unless you were recently a physics student I think it may be hard to understand how important these videos are. There is no comparable resource. Sure, MIT is not legally obligated to keep these videos up, but keeping the old videos up would not hurt anyone and is profoundly helpful to people that want to learn.

    What exactly did they destroy?

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    Other than Professor Lewin's capacity to attack other victims through his online work?

    The videos still exist and may be used by MIT profs and others in the MIT system. This just limits potential contact with students outside of MIT - a perogative of a PRIVATE university (most of which never tape their lectures or put them out to the community at large anyway).

    Get some law professors to weigh in

    Because they are always coddling their students.

    Lewin also seems to have been stripped of his title. Wow, I thought one had to be a black man accused of drugging and raping a dozen or more women in the physical world for that to happen. Even members of Congress who break laws might only get censured.


    You are basing your comments on exactly what evidence?

    MIT has not released the details of the grounding for their actions. That doesn't mean that they had no evidence, it just means that they can't - or wont - share it with you (or me, or anyone else whose business it is not).

    If you so clearly have some real business to know why a private employer took a private action against a private employee, perhaps you should take it up with MIT?


    They're building tank traps. To stop the lawsuits.

    Irrational actions by administrators

    Last point first: While MIT's decision against a non-employee of MIT from a complaint by a non-student of MIT may not be my business, the resulting actions had a very public, negative effect on many tens of thousands of science students world-wide that hardly seems justified.

    I don't doubt that Prof. Lewin may have wrote something off color, which is all that is necessary under MIT's definition of sexual harassment. The thermonuclear reaction was excessive and more harmful to others than Lewin, while not helping anyone.

    The best intro physic video lecture available

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    Honestly, they deleted one of the best free physic resources the world has ever had. I had professors that watched his videos to help them come up with interesting ways to teach certain topics. This was a resource that was free to any human being on Earth that speaks English and can get internet (which is a large group of people).

    I don't know anyone that has studied physics in the past few years that hasn't watched a few of his videos. If he did something inappropriate, he should be punished and not allowed to interact with the public through MIT. Taking down the old videos punishes all future physics student, not just MIT students.

    There is no law stopping them from taking it down, but education should be available to everyone everywhere. MIT knows this which is why they have been a leading force in offering free lectures. It is in their best interest. There may very well be geniuses around the world that can't afford an undergraduate education, but they may gain respect for MIT and eventually prove themselves. Furthermore, the private colleges around Boston are not for profit and do not pay taxes. The reason this allowed is because they provide an important service to society, not just the people that pay to go.

    I expect that there will be complaints in the physics community and the old videos will be put up again. It doesn't hurt anyone to show the old videos and it is a phenomenally important resource for students around the world.


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    ...this coming from a right-winger? Thanks for the laugh!

    Could somebody at the MIT

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    Could somebody at the MIT administration grow a spine and inform us whether Prof. Lewin was still grading the MITx class or otherwise involved in its operations at the time? The Web Archive and other resources will make this public information sooner or later, so just step forward and answer yes or no.

    If these students contacted him of their own volition, and he acted like a twit while having no authority over them, then while this incident would be embarassing, it should nonetheless be viewed in that light.

    The statement specifically

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    The statement specifically says the contact began while the students were participants in his online course. What more clarification do you need?

    I'm amazed at the lengths

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    I'm amazed at the lengths people are going to to argue that what this guy did wasn't really "that" bad, when MIT never released any of the specific details of what he did.

    What MIT administration did was far worse

    In taking two courses that hundreds of people contributed to off-line, hurting many thousands of people world-wide. Yes, it is book burning. Book burning seldom destroys every copy and some of Lewin's lectures (only) appear to be available elsewhere. So, in a relativistic view, what Lewin did wasn't so bad.

    As to what Lewin did, MIT administration created two problems. First, it disclosed no details about what he allegedly did. Second, and a much bigger problem, is the wide open definition used by MIT of sexual harassment, so the smallest of things fits within its scope. It takes just one non-MIT student to complain about one MIT non-employee on something they didn't like, to trigger a scorched earth response from MIT administrators.


    They didn't burn anything. They merely put it in the reserve book room.

    Again, what are you basing your little tantrum on?

    They took it out of the library entirely


    I see no point in doing this. MIT should reconsider. This doesn't mean Lewin should teach any more courses (even online), but the lectures are valuable to many people and should stay available.

    Non MIT student threatened to sue MIT?

    From the sounds of the MIT press release, the complainant was just one of the many thousands who signed up for a free course and not a student at MIT. Lewin wasn't an employee of MIT at the time, and had no grading authority. A fundamental principal of harassment claims is that the alleged attacker has some sort of power over the victim, yet, here there was none at all. It was an interaction between two individuals with loose ties to MIT at the time.

    MIT is probably scrubbing the online forum for traces of the complainant to protect her identity. Hopefully then all the valuable intellectual property will be restored to the public domain by MIT.

    Of course, this is hardly the first time MIT acted poorly. Remember Aaron Swartz? Likely in Lewin's case, MIT acted because the woman threatened to sue them.

    Any discipline for MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber?

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    Any discipline for MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, the professor who admitted that he crafted disastrous Obamacare and the destruction of the greatest healthcare system in the world based on deception (lies) and the "stupidity" of the American voter? MIT should get its priorities in order.

    His comment...(Gruber)

    ...was well thought out, repeatedly. He knew exactly what he was doing. He took money (um, a lot) to do exactly what he said he wanted to do. He's not apologizing for what he did. He's apologizing for getting taped saying it. So, fuck his apology.

    Yeah, the greatest healthcare

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    Yeah, the greatest healthcare in the world - if you can afford it by having your insurance company pay for it. But wait - 40,000,000 people who are using it without having insurance are driving up my premiums. If only there were some way to get these people insurance....

    Gruber may be a tactless, elitist policy dick who doesn't give a rats ass about politics, but wasn't he onto something? I also seem to recall many conservatives bemoaning 'the stupidity of the American voter' after Obama won the election twice. In fact they're still doing it:

    Okay fish

    You are retired, right?

    Give up your socialized health care first.

    Go on.


    ... the professor who admitted that he crafted disastrous Obamacare and the destruction of the greatest healthcare system in the world...

    Wait a minute... Obamacare destroyed the French healthcare system?? When did that happen??

    MIT is confused

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    I'm on Walter's side, if he's still chasing girls at the age of 78. Go for what you know, dawg! But stay away from those sultry, litigious bitches. When they sue MIT, the administration will throw you under the bus, and engage in the ritual burning of books, like a bunch of Nazi slobs. Ah, the sublime ingratitude of the intelligentsia!

    In this quest to keep MITx freeloaders happy, the university ought to be thinking about generations of MIT grads and OCW/edX learners who will be very unhappy with this development.

    It's like an episode of Planet of the Apes, where administration has been taken over by Chimpanzees who fear punishment, but will do anything for a banana.

    In case they are wondering what happens next, I suggest MIT apologize to Professor Lewin, and thank him profusely for three decades of exemplary teaching.

    Why take the videos down?

    That punishes learners (current and future) much more than it punishes ex-Professor Lewin. I hope MIT reconsiders this rash action.

    Behavioral health at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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    A part of the whole picture are ever easier access to behavioral health resources or improving lack of easy access to behavioral health resources around Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT community for all the efforts, need ever easier access to expert consultations with respect to everything from managing routine difficulties to risks for life, i.e.

    Joke telling is sexual harassment?

    From your first link:

    Sexual harassment may take many forms. Sexual assault and requests for sexual favors that affect educational or employment decisions constitute sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment may also consist of unwanted physical contact, requests for sexual favors, visual displays of degrading sexual images, sexually suggestive conduct, or offensive remarks of a sexual nature.

    Better not allow any comedians to perform on campus! The administration has no sense of humor.

    Given how inclusive MIT's definition is of harassment, Lewin, may have violated it. However, the redress is what is wrong, namely removing the lectures and course materials which hurts hundreds of thousands of people world-wide.

    It seems like a poor attempt to distract from Gruber.


    Yes, telling inappropriate jokes is harassment. Like, lets say there were "jokes" about pulling idiot geezers from their cars and killing them when they honk at cyclists legally operating on side streets.

    SO FUNNY - particularly if a large number of people around you are laughing and are not like you!

    If you want MIT lectures, go to MIT. MIT doesn't owe anybody anything here. It is a nice project for them to open up as much as they do, but you aren't entitled to that content. Stick to freaking out over coupons at the checkout.