MIT students are famous for making "hacks
" in various parts of campus. These pranks usually involve humorously defacing different areas in and around MIT
. Guides giving tours rehash the same old stories of the police car disassembled and reassembled on the Great Dome
, the transformation of the Dome into the figure of R2D2
for the release of the Phantom Menace, and the MIT balloon which appeared one year at the Harvard
football game. Along with these, there are often hacks which tour guides are probably told by their superiors at Admissions
to stay away from. The Wheel of Tuition had to have been one of the hardest hacks ever to pull off, but most non-MIT personnel will never hear of it. While it was an awesome sight, it stood as a protest to an unnecessary increase in MIT's already exorbitant tuition
fees. It also served as a little bit of bad publicity for prospective students and other members of the outside community.
The skylight of MIT's famous Lobby 7 reopened right around the New Year 2002 after being shut since the beginning of the Second World War. The popular story explaining its closing is that the light shining from the skylight would make Lobby 7 an easy bombing target for enemy airplanes. Obviously, this is not the likely explanation. Regardless of the reason for its shutdown, a renovation project brought it back to life and it was brought back in time for the spring semester in 2002. It brought light and beauty to an area that had been bogged down in construction and renovation work for a long while. Being on top of Lobby 7's dome as it is, the skylight is very hard to reach. There are three floors in Building 7, so making a path up to the skylight would be tumultuous, risky, and a major engineering feat. Given this apparent danger and difficulty, I have a ton of respect for the hackers who performed the Wheel of Tuition hack.
Observant passers-by noticed the Wheel of Tuition on the morning of February 4. The center of the new skylight in Lobby 7 looks conspicuously like the Wheel of Fortune, so the hackers decided to make a parody of it. They filled in the wedge-shaped spaces surrounding the circle with different ways students find to pay MIT's gigantic bill. Curiously, only a couple of spaces were marked "free ride" and "free + stipend", while the rest read things like "Tech Loans", "All Loans", and "Work Study". In an image fitting for MIT's stingy financial aid department, the arrow that marks the spin's value was stopped at "Aid Denied".
The Wheel of Tuition was short-lived. If anyone did not see it on Registration Day when it occurred, they did not see it at all. I assume that the administration had the physical plant remove it when they noticed it. It's a shame that such a fine work was removed so quickly.