The Giant Speaks: MIT responds

Since my letter was published in rec.humor.funny, a number of people have written to me asking whether MIT ever responded. Many, many months after I mailed the original letter, the answer is finally yes. MIT didn't seem to see it fit to respond to the postal version of my letter, but apparently it's created enough of a stir on the Net that Admissions Director Behnke decided a reply was in order. Note that this response was not mailed to me (nor does it deign to refer to me by name; preferring a rather anonymous "the student"), I have it only because it was forwarded to me by Ien Cheng to whom I am eternally grateful.

Thus, I am now pleased to present, without further (unnecessary) commentary, the uncut, unedited work of Mr. Michael C. Behnke:


Two Cheers, Maybe Two and a Half

People have been getting a chuckle (aside from some MIT folks who have been getting fits) over an exchange posted on the WEB between MIT and a prospective student. The student, apparently, has the exchange on his WEB page, and it has spread from there. I'd like to give the student two cheers for a pretty good parody of our letter. In case you haven't seen the exchange, I'm adding it below. (I'm sending this message to those who inquire and who obviously have seen the exchange, but this message may be forwarded to others who haven't seen it.)

Our letter looks rather foolish to some taken out of context. The reason I'm only giving the student two cheers is that I don't know if he recognized our letter as a parody. Our tongue was planted firmly in our cheek with that letter. We've been trying to reflect in our publications and mailings some of the quirky humor at MIT. Since I came to MIT about ten years ago, I've admired the way people here poke fun at themselves. Witness the "Nerd Pride" buttons and hats, the strange cheers at football games, the "Nerd Crossing" sign, and various other "hacks." We've tried to inject some of that humor into our communications with students.

Some may not know why we mailed our letter. Most colleges participate in the Student Search Service. We buy names of high school students who have scored well on the PSAT and who have high grades. Colleges then mail these students letters and brochures to encourage them to look into the college in question. Top students can get ten of these a day. We thought that in this context, students would recognize our letter as being a bit of a parody of other letters.

The purpose of the letter was to get students' attention and provoke a dialogue through which students would learn more about MIT. In fact, the letter was very successful. The percentage of students asking for more information about MIT went up dramatically, and we ultimately enrolled one of the strongest classes in our history. Many students told us that the letter helped to dispel the image of MIT as a humorless, pompous, off-putting place. In spite of the fact that the response rate to this letter was the highest we have ever had, we have since switched to a more straightforward version which is getting almost as strong a response. We switched because we were concerned (justifiably, it turns out) about how the letter would look taken out of context.

If the student did recognize our letter as a parody, I give him two and half cheers. I won't give him three cheers, because if he did recognize it as a parody, it was sort of mean spirited to take it out of context and make us look foolish. But one could argue that we were doing a parody of other colleges' letters, so it serves us right. "Hoist with one's own petard." (Yes, we have a Shakespeare ensemble at MIT, and being in admissions, I can't let a message go out without a little promotion.)

Here's the message that went out on the WEB:

<- Back to the original letters


Maintained by John Mongan.