MIT tries to put the prank back in 'hacking'

In this the 25th anniversary year of MIT’s most famous student prank (known as hacking in campus parlance) the university has seen fit to formally remind its charges that a prank is not a prank if the prankster ends up being charged -- and certainly is not in the spirit of the school’s devil-may-care tradition if bystanders end up in a burn unit.


According to this morning’s Boston Globe:

"Historically, hacks have been creatively and thoughtfully executed without injury, destruction of property, or public notoriety for the hackers or MIT," Phillip Clay, the school's chancellor, said in the e-mail.

Clay cited references to the hacking code, which is on display for all to see in the Stata Center, a campus building. "True hackers quickly identify themselves when they encounter the police, and they do not confront or evade the police," he wrote in the e-mail. "Hackers do not create public hazards."

MIT has had its fair share of public notoriety of late related to public displays by its students, including the recent transformation of John Harvard’s statue in Harvard Yard into character out of Halo 3; Star Simpson’s arrest at Logon Airport over “artwork” that alarmed authorities; the arrest of three students for breaking into the school’s faculty club; and, a so-called “sodium drop” into the Charles River.

MIT’s admonitions to take more care have not been well received by all on campus, as the public rebuke of Simpson prompted a few students to protest.

The e-mail reminder from Chancellor Clay comes just about 25 years after what was perhaps the most famous of all MIT pranks. From the university’s Technology Review

During the second quarter of the Harvard-Yale football game on November 20, 1982, a big black balloon with "MIT" written all over it suddenly emerged from the Harvard Stadium field. "The two teams were lined up when suddenly our attention shifted toward the sideline," remembers MIT Museum science and technology curator Deborah Douglas, who was there. "That's when we saw it. Everyone was trying to make out what was written on the balloon. Some of the Harvard police seemed to draw their guns. And then suddenly it exploded."

One can only imagine the carnage and repercussions that would ensue were the kids to reprise that act in this day and age.

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