Book: Mens et Mania: The MIT Nobody Knows

MIT is a special place.

I was a student there from 1983 – 1990, got two degrees, and was booted out of a Ph.D. program well before I finished. I lived in a fraternity (ADP) on the edge of Central Square (351 Mass Ave) for four years. My first office was that address – for several years I got more mail each day than almost everyone else I was living with combined. My next office was 875 Main Street, just behind the frat. And daily, between Monday and Friday, I walked down Main Street to Sloan or Mass Ave to the rest of campus.

IHTFP was my motto, along with everyone else I knew. If you need some clues for what IHTFP can mean, there are many lists on the web. But “I Hate This Fucking Place” is one side of the coin and “I Have Truly Found Paradise” is the other. However, the coin – at least for me – was not equally weighted so it didn’t land 50% of the time on each side. I’ll let you guess which side it landed on more frequently.

I read Samuel Jay Keyser’s amazing book Mens et Mania: The MIT Nobody Knows the past two nights. I’ve had it on my Kindle for a while but for some reason hadn’t read it. As I was scrolling through the infinite list of unread books I stumbled upon it and consumed it. It was just awesome.

I vaguely remember Keyser from when I was at MIT. Much of this book takes place during the 1980s when I was there and I remember many of the stories and situations he describes. I also remember a number of them he doesn’t that he doesn’t talk about that he was likely involved in, such as when my frat was put on probation and two of our members were suspended for a year in an “inappropriate publishing incident”, which coincided with a five year shift in campus views on pornography and sexual harassment during a period when the male / female ratio shifted from 80/20 to 50/50.

Toss in apartheid, a thing called the “MIT Committee on Discipline”, huge building and construction projects on MIT land around a very debilitated and pre-gentrified Central and Kendall Square, and a generational shift clearly to Gen-X as undergraduates, and you’ve got a pretty interesting time to be a senior member of MIT’s Administration.

Keyser is a great writer and story teller. He captures so much of what I remember clearly, but shows it to me from the administration’s, rather than a student’s, frame of reference. He does it with humor, even in the most frustrating and maddening moments. And like everyone I’ve ever encountered at MIT, he continuously teaches throughout.

I loved this book. As Amy read a Game of Thrones book (the last one I think – she just said something about really big dragons and lots of fire and death), I kept reading her sections out loud. As a Wellesley graduate now on the Wellesley board, who knows MIT culture and students well, I got some good belly laughs out of her.

Even though IHTFP, I will always think of MIT as a special place. So much of what I am, and how I approach things, was forged in the intense place that I describe as a daily assault on one’s self-esteem. A book like this one helps me remember the power of it against the backdrop of an institution that is a remarkably complex and amazing place.

  • http://www.thefeinline.com mfeinstein

    I think I told my parents that IHTFP meant ‘Institute Has The Finest Professors’. That didn’t explain the screw in the Great Dome, but they went along with it.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Parents are so gullible. Especially before there was Google and Wikipedia.

    • StevenHB

      I totally would have told my parents the truth – and might have. I just don’t remember at this point.

  • Felix Dashevsky

    MIT is a truly unique place. Have to check this book out. A fraternity brother of mine (I was a Sigep) is working on a comic book version of the MIT hackstory. His Kickstarter was funded a bit ago (http://kck.st/1lM81ns), and I look forward to seeing the final product.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Crap – I totally missed that Kickstarter – I would have completely played at the $5,000 level. Can you intro me and I’ll see if I can retroactively be part of it?

      • Felix Dashevsky

        Definitely. Will do via e-mail.

  • https://parantap.com/ Bryan Hackett

    Brad, was your fraternity put on regular or double secret probation?

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      It was definitely NOT secret as we were one of the early examples of bad behavior around sexual harassment and gender dynamics. It made a profound impression on me.

      • https://parantap.com/ Bryan Hackett

        Sorry, Brad. I misread the article tone. I did not intend to make light of a difficult or painful experience. -Bryan

  • Todd Siler

    Brad, thanks for these refreshing reflections on your MIT adventures. You just launched a boatload of positive memories of this phenomenal place that still inspires me! Wish I’d met Keyser during those years; I would’ve appreciated his good humor and wisdom.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I so fondly remember meeting you in the class I took with you and Otto Penne. That was wild.

  • Todd Siler

    I remember where you sat in that cool class on “Art in the Environment.” As I recall, you had an excellent presence and enjoyed growing the conversations through insightful questions. You were a “thought-provoking” leader then as you are now. Always brave.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Little known fact about me: I did two humanities concentrations at MIT: Art/Architecture and Russian Literature. My mom was likely the inspiration for the first. I have no idea what the inspiration for the second was.

  • StevenHB

    Looks like something I’ll have to put on my reading list!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      You’ll love it.

      • StevenHB

        It was an interesting perspective. I think that Keyser is a bit (unsurprisingly) self-serving. I also suspect that as a graduate student, you might have seen more of what was going on with the administration and faculty than I did.

        There’ve been some interesting changes since he left. I’m told that since the FSILGs (fraternities, sororities and independent living groups) have something to lose (their MIT endorsements), they’re more careful to follow the rules regarding alcohol and drugs than the dorms.

        • http://www.feld.com bfeld

          Most autobiographies are somewhat self-serving – that’s the nature of the beast!

          I find it very ironic that the FSILGs might be more careful on alcohol and drugs than dorms.

          • StevenHB

            You never know when you’re going to get bitten in the ass by the law of unintended consequences.

          • http://www.feld.com bfeld

            But, it’s useful to assume it will happen – a lot!

  • Todd Siler

    The ideas and innovations you absorbed from the two Humanities Concentrations probably helped hone your skills for the art of business. But your “first inspiration” sparked a passion for the arts, which show us how to innovate in countless ways.

  • Motionry

    We have some MIT folks on our team and work at the campus a few days a week. We always push ourselves harder when working there. Talent is off the charts. We love MIT.