Our Decision to Hold CLS2020 at MIT

After listening and deliberating with the CLS community, we have decided to hold CLS2020 at MIT, July 29-31, 2020. We expect the event will be held across several venues on the MIT campus such as the Samberg Conference Center and the Media Lab. The MIT Scheller Teaching Education Program, under the leadership of Eric Klopfer and Scot Osterweil, will be our host organization at MIT. We are also inviting additional leadership to join the committee in order to showcase work and perspectives marginalized in elite educational institutions, with an emphasis on women of color at MIT and beyond. We wanted to share how and why we arrived at these decisions. This statement was authored by the organizing team at UCI and MIT, with input from the CLS2019 committee and community, and does not imply the full endorsement of those who provided input.

When CLS was founded last year, the plan was to alternate every other year between UC Irvine and MIT, to vary location while keeping costs and logistical overhead low. Having anchor institutions with volunteer organizers and the ability to commit resources has been key to sustainability and subsidized registration fees. Because of the complex feelings around recent events and revelations at MIT and the Media Lab, however, we took a pause to potentially reconsider the location for CLS2020, and solicit feedback at UCI during CLS2019. We reached out to individuals in our community, set up an anonymous suggestion box, and posted “listeners” at the event to gather one-on-one feedback.

We heard diverse views, though most attendees did not reach out to share an opinion. Many advocated for their own cities, particularly Pittsburgh and Chicago. A small number of people raised concerns about MIT. They suggested they may not attend if it was held there, with some adding they  understand if that was our decision and would rejoin the conference at a later date. Many mentioned they did not think changing plans was an appropriate response. Some were against cancelling an institution because of mistakes made by individuals, pointing out that none of our institutions are beyond reproach. Others noted that vulnerable people at the Media Lab, particularly students and women of color were suffering harm, and deserved support. Some stressed the complexity of the situation and our community, urging us to sit with our discomfort and not look away from internal conflicts and contradictions. Taking the time for reflective private conversations was a valuable complement to the public discourse and activism that continues to unfold online and in the media. 

We understand that any decision we make is imperfect, and needs to be explained, given the diversity of opinions in our community and beyond. Moving away from MIT would have been a way to signal concerns about toxic philanthropy in higher education and show support for victims of sexual abuse. Everyone in our community wants to support survivors and is horrified by the growing list of revelations surrounding Epstein and other wealthy and powerful individuals who have influenced our universities. It would likely have been uncontroversial to move to another city, and Pittsburgh or Chicago would have been cause for celebration for many in those locations. To do so may have offered relief from difficult conversations, but not fully reflected the diverse and contradictory positions of the CLS community. 

The reality is that many leaders in our community sit in elite institutions, and our affiliation with MIT has been integral to our ability to sustain the event. Moving away from MIT for one year does not erase this fact. One strength of the community rests in our ability to mobilize powerful institutions in the service of those with less power and resources. Many we spoke to pushed us to acknowledge the power, money, and status that elite institutions like MIT offer us, while also insisting that we work to convert that power into movements for equity and justice. By staying in partnership with MIT, we are not seeking to turn our backs on significant and important abuses of power and errors in judgement. Instead, we hope to take this as an opportunity to learn, grow, and expand our capacity to convert power into justice and sustain a diverse community around core values of equity, inclusion, and generosity.

We need your help to realize this hope. Our decision to hold CLS2020 at MIT is accompanied by a commitment to do more than just talk about our mistakes and complicity, taking concrete steps to share power, voice, and resources in meaningful ways. As organizers, this means continuing to raise funds and to ensure that we can keep subsidized costs low for students and educators with limited resources. We can do better on this front. We recognize that these kinds of economic struggles are as important as the academic and symbolic battles we wage in our scholarship and in the public sphere. We also are committed to developing ways to better showcase the work and voices of those most often marginalized in elite educational institutions. Over the coming months, we will be expanding our leadership team and putting out a request for suggestions on new content and approaches. In the meantime, we welcome your input at contact@connectedlearningsummit.org.

We are so grateful to all of you who have been part of our community, who shared your wisdom, push us to do better, and help us move forward despite our many faults and foibles. While conversations were often difficult, the listening we did as part of this decision making process led to profound insights and learnings about the strengths and conflicts in our community, as well as broader social and cultural dynamics as we navigate a shifting landscape of activism and public discourse. We also learned about the enthusiasm of potential partners in other parts of the country, and very much look forward to exploring opportunities to expand our roster of cities beyond Cambridge and Irvine.

 

With much appreciation — the CLS Organizing Team