Photo by Eric Mansfield

Last week, the Technique ran an online opinion piece entitled “Why the T thief shouldn’t be suspended.” After reading it, I felt it was important that I give you some insights into my thoughts.

As someone who has spent a career in higher education, I have a deep respect and near reverence for the many wonderful college traditions that exist today. Some of the Georgia Tech traditions are among the best in the nation, ranging from Rat Caps and John Heisman to my personal favorite, George P. Burdell. These traditions greatly enrich the campus experience and help create bonds and memories that, for many, last a lifetime.

However, times change and traditions that compromise the safety of our community must be carefully examined and evaluated.

For example, imagine what would happen today if we required that all students have their hands and feet tied, then threw them into the deep end of the swimming pool and required them to stay there for 45 minutes, a.k.a. “drownproofing.” Would that have deterred you from coming to Tech?

In 1999, I was the associate vice chancellor for Engineering at Texas A&M University. That year the “Bonfire”—a greatly revered tradition at A&M—collapsed, killing 12 incredibly bright young students and injuring 27 more. What had been a joyous 90-year-old tradition turned into a devastating tragedy. In five days, I attended the funerals of the six engineering students who perished – something that I will never forget.

That same year, a Georgia Tech student died when she tried to climb onto one of the campus buildings as part of what was then a Georgia Tech “tradition.” Following that tragedy, President Wayne Clough wrote a letter to the students, plainly stating that anyone involved in attempting to steal the “T” will be subject to Institute penalties up to and including expulsion.

Like the presidents who have preceded me, I feel a personal responsibility for the safety and security of the Georgia Tech community, and in particular, for our students.

Simply put, I could not live with myself if a student fell and were injured or killed because of a desire to support what some thought to be a “tradition” here at Georgia Tech.

A number of years ago, the Tech Tower was equipped with fiber optic cables throughout the letters and an alarm system. The alarm system just happened to be disabled due to maintenance the night that the student “took the T.” The video monitoring system, however, was not disabled, which is what led to his apprehension. Contrary to popular belief, these systems—which are now fully operational—are not there simply to stop students from “stealing the T,” but rather to discourage anyone from attempting to steal it and face the possibility of being injured or worse.

In the fall of 2011, the Student Government Association sponsored a “Keep the ‘T’ in Tech” week. About that time, I received an email from George P. Burdell that included a statement I read to the students during one of the events that week. It said, “I understand getting into Tech is more difficult than ever, and that you have some of the world’s brightest students. Risking your life and risking your academic future is not bright, and it is not a tradition; it is insanity.”

George P. Burdell is a wise man doing amazing and innovative things throughout the world. He has been around for decades. I believe it is my responsibility to do everything I can to make sure that the rest of the talented young people here at Georgia Tech are as well.

As is our policy, the student involved in the recent theft of the “T” from the Tech Tower has been referred to the Office of Student Integrity and will go through the normal student judicial process for recommended sanctions.

In the meantime, I want to encourage you to make the most of your time at Tech and revel in the many great traditions that exist, but not at the risk of your safety or your life. We have another tradition here at Tech, and as president of this great institution, I look forward to shaking the hand of each and every one of you as you cross the stage at your graduation.

  • jorgep berdelle

    bring back drownproofing!

  • biology professor

    here here. as our cultural values change, so can our traditions.

    • P.S. Wallace

      I think you mean as our cultural values are *forcibly* changed, in a non-consensus fashion, by a minority of the folks of a community, who have somehow obtained some slight amount of actual power or cultural influence and then use it for all it is worth; folks who are usually not actually significantly harmed themselves, not torted, by whatever is at discussion, but simply think they have a better vision of the common future and will have their way–though usually working in the shadows.

      This issue goes beyond this one, way beyond. I will not fight for theft of T per se, but neither will I excommunicate those who actually do it.

      • David

        So I guess we just let it happen, and see how much the next of kin can take from Tech’s coffers.

        Now, where’s your rat hat?

        • P.S. Wallace

          I did buy one, though the tradition was long dead by the time I showed up (rightfully killed by G.I.’s not putting up with nonsense from noncombat folk). Filled mine out for a few games. I have no idea if I still have it or not. The Rat Cap is one reason I admire the band so much–they may be one of the strongest bastions of tradition at the school.


  • Tyler

    The information about the death in 1999 is misleading. Here is the original story:

  • Luz

    well I think a man quoting a fictional person as if they were friends is insane, so.

    • George P. with a dot Burdell

      If you went to Tech or knew Bud Peterson, you would understand. He wrote this article to us, Tech people past and present, not to someone who found this link on facebook. go tread water

    • David

      Who says GP is fictional? How do we know you exist?

  • gtvbjt

    SHAME ON YOU BUD! That person who died in 1999 was neither a student or climbing the Tech Tower! She was a 26-year old drunk woman climbing the Coliseum. Get your facts straight!
    Technique: I hope to see a prominent correction made on this.

    • VTHVBE

      Welcome to the modern politically correct college administration, where actual facts are irrelevant. If Peterson chooses to believe that history is different from what really happened, then the argument is settled. He is the one in charge, and not to be questioned.

  • G. Burdell.

    I think drownproofing would actually enhance the safety of our community.

    • Sam

      You, sir, or madam, are absolutely right. It would make men out of the silly boys that go to school here.

  • Henderson

    The stealing of the “T” tradition is one that is in many ways inseparable from Georgia Tech history. That being said, why not modify the tradition? Maybe have a T-collecting competition, and hide T’s across the campus in random, but sneaky spots. I think this is an acceptable, and probably a safer compromise. Go Jackets!!

    • Annie

      Or have a large T on ground level at Tech tower. Secure it with a number of different devices so that it’s a challenge to take, but not a safety issue. The students who manage to get around the different security measures still have to return it at halftime of the Homecoming game to get credit, and are responsible for re-installing it with a new slew of tricky security measures. Notoriety is available for students who steal the T quickly or whose new security measures result in it taking a long time for the T to be stolen again.

      • P.S. Wallace

        Yeah, I’ve been thinking something along the line of the spirit of the Herndon Monument at USNA, or the annual Senior day at CalTech, where seniors skip off campus for the day and undergrads try to break into their rooms.

        One cannot simply banish some desires of youth, and especially male youth. Well, the modern campus administrator will try, but then, that is becoming a reason to avoid this place. I am afraid that given current trends, that in 10 years or so, my recommendation to a young Southern man will be that if he doesn’t want to be neutered/emasculated but still wants to study engineering in state, go to UGA, not GT. (Don’t get me wrong–I’m sure the PC (and that is not quite the right word) is even worse there. It’s just that “Bulldog Nation” is so big and vocal that there is a countervailing force to keep the nanny-staters somewhat in check, whereas there has been much more laissez-faire for Tech from the rest of the state).

  • David


    • P.S. Wallace

      The man’s a Shakespeare.


    Bud Peterson is the epitome of everything that has been going wrong with Tech over the past twenty years.

    Another decade or two of administrators like him, and Tech’s glory and reputation will be distant fading memories. The Georgia Board of Regents and the Georgia state legislature are doing everything in their power to marginalize Tech, and people like Peterson are just sitting back and letting it happen.

    • P.S. Wallace

      Having just finished a second tour of duty here, for a master’s, I consider that the spirit of the Tech I went to died sometime in the 2000s, killed by administrators wanting to turn this joint into an engineering Ivy (with the culture of an Ivy), and perhaps by a shift in incoming students from “just bright” to “bright but also studious resume-packers wanting to get the gold-star from their teachers”.

      I’m glad I went to the school I did, and will always have good memories of it. Of the current version, Peterson’s, he can have it. Perhaps the UGA Engineering School won’t be so pretentious, as it grows, as Tech has become. If not–all good things come to an end.

      • P.S. Wallace

        As a brief addendum, over the past year I have actually tried to tease out what I thought were the motivating forces behind the change in the “feel” of the GT culture, from being the Tech of old to what I sometimes think is now a glorified high school. Among others:

        1. The increase in on-campus housing. When only 1/3 (or so) of your students were on-campus, they both had a greater feeling of independence and self-reliance, and were’t under your constant 103rd Rules Brigade.

        2. The growth in student numbers from 12,000 to 20,000. At 12,000, Tech still felt like a small school. At 20,000, I think the importance of the individual student is less and the staffer more.

        3. The huge increase in staffers. To me, this may be the big one. First, they are doing a lot of jobs Tech stidents used to do, admin wise. Second, these brilliant monds of our time are coming in from whatever schools they went to

      • P.S. Wallace

        Technical problems with my previous…continuing at #3

        3…coming in from whatever school they went to, with their B.A.’s and Master’s, and ignoring the fact they themselves might never have been able to complete this school, are now ready to “lead” the students…i.e., mold them in their own image. Too many staffers reduces the ability of students to grow.

        4. The shift (or at least what I see as a shift) from in-house promotion at Student Services (Griffin to Dull, with Dean Ed also there) to being more interested in following the line of the wider collegiate Student Affairs worldview, and seeing that community as validation enough.