Surprise — the Massachusetts Institute of Technology endorses students’ liberty to engage in offensive speech…officially.
In contrast to castigations of “hate speech” and the increasingly common notion that “hate speech isn’t free speech,” MIT is siding with the Constitution.
On December 21st, the Cambridge private land-grant research university released a Free Expression Statement.
From the document:
Free expression is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition of a diverse and inclusive community. We cannot have a truly free community of expression if some perspectives can be heard and others cannot. Learning from a diversity of viewpoints, and from the deliberation, debate, and dissent that accompany them, are essential ingredients of academic excellence.
Free expression promotes creativity by affirming the ability to exchange ideas without constraints. It not only facilitates individual autonomy and self-fulfillment, it provides for participation in collective decision-making and is essential to the search for truth and justice. … Academic freedom promotes scholarly rigor and the testing of ideas by protecting research, publication, and teaching from interference.
That principle means on-campus guests can’t be relegated to a single perspective:
A commitment to free expression includes hearing and hosting speakers, including those whose views or opinions may not be shared by many members of the MIT community and may be harmful to some. This commitment includes the freedom to criticize and peacefully protest speakers to whom one may object, but it does not extend to suppressing or restricting such speakers from expressing their views. Debate and deliberation of controversial ideas are hallmarks of the Institute’s educational and research missions and are essential to the pursuit of truth, knowledge, equity, and justice.
The school makes clear things such as “direct threats, harassment, plagiarism, or other speech that falls outside the boundaries of the First Amendment” won’t be protected. Furthermore, it expects “a collegial and respectful learning and working environment.”
We cannot prohibit speech that some experience as offensive or injurious. At the same time, MIT deeply values civility, mutual respect, and uninhibited, wide-open debate. In fostering such debate, we have a responsibility to express ourselves in ways that consider the prospect of offense and injury and the risk of discouraging others from expressing their own views. This responsibility complements, and does not conflict with, the right to free expression.
Even robust disagreements shall not be liable to official censure or disciplinary action.
Such ideas were once — and for a very long time — the norm at universities. Some might say they were integral to the point of secondary education. But in the past few years, things have significantly changed:
University Schools Students on the Importance of Free Speech — and Reporting People Who Use It
Ivy League Professor Says Climate Change Causes ‘Hate Speech’
Free Speech, 2022: University Paper Will Reject Op-Eds by Those With ‘Institutional Power’
University of Montana Bans Mean Speech
Princeton Course Claims the ‘Far Right’ Abuses Liberty to ‘Justify Hate Speech’
Academics Fear the ‘Hate’ of Free Speech as a Liberated Twitter Looms
Back to MIT, the news isn’t wholly encouraging in the arena of constitutional allowance. Per Campus Reform, the statement was approved by the faculty senate by a vote of 98 to 52.
As put by George Washington University Shapiro Chair of Public Interest Law Jonathan Turley, “What is unnerving is that a third of the faculty disagreed with the resolution.”
Overall, the resolution is a powerful defense of free speech. MIT has joined a growing minority of schools resisting the anti-free speech movement…
“Minority” doesn’t sound so substantial, but the fact that it’s growing could change the educational landscape. Will it? Time will tell.
Stay tuned for more.
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