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MIT Releases Statement Supporting Free Speech

Surprise! Massachusetts Institute of Technology endorses students' freedom to engage in offensive speech…officially.

In contrast to the denigration of “hate speech” and the ever-popular notion that “hate speech isn't free speech,” MIT is aligned with the Constitution.

On the 21st of December, the university issued a Free Expression Statement.

The document says:

The right to express oneself is fundamental; however, it is not the sole condition for a plural and inclusive society. It's impossible to create a truly open and free society when certain perspectives are heard but others aren't. Learning from a range of perspectives, as well as the debate, deliberation, and disagreement that they bring are vital to academic excellence.

The freedom of expression fosters creativity, recognizing the capacity to freely exchange ideas. It is not just about facilitating personal autonomy and self-fulfillment, it allows participation in decision-making in a collective manner and is vital to the pursuit of justice and truth. Academic freedom fosters scientific rigor as well as the evaluation of ideas through safeguarding research, publication, and education from involvement.

This means that guests on campus cannot be restricted to one perspective:

A right to freedom of expression includes hosting and hearing speakers, even speakers whose opinions or views might not be embraced by many people in the MIT community and can cause harm to certain people. This freedom of expression includes the right to peacefully criticize and protest those speakers whom one might oppose, but is not a means of stifling or disallowing them from speaking their minds. Deliberation and discussion of controversial views are an integral part of the Institute's education and research mission and are vital in the pursuit of knowledge, truth, fairness, equity, and justice.

The school is clear that “direct threats, harassment, plagiarism, or other speech that falls outside the boundaries of the First Amendment” aren't protected. In addition, it demands “a collegial and respectful learning and working environment.”

It is not possible to prohibit speech that is deemed by some to be harmful or offensive. But, MIT deeply values civility and mutual respect as well as free, open debate. When we encourage discussion, we are under an obligation to speak in ways that take into account the possibility of offense and harm, as well as the possibility of preventing others from expressing their opinions. This duty is in harmony with, and is not at odds with, the right to freely express our opinions.

But:

Even a disagreement that is tense will not be the subject of official discipline or censure.

These were once, and for a long time, commonplace in universities. They were essential to the purpose that secondary schooling was a necessity. However, in the last few years, the landscape has drastically changed:

“University Schools Students on the importance of free Speech (and on the importance of reporting those who make use of it)”

“Ivy League Professor Says Climate Change is the cause of ‘Hate Speech'”

“Free Speech 2022: University Paper Will Reject Op-Eds written by those with ‘institutional Power'”

“University of Montana Bans Hate Speech”

“Princeton Course Claims that the “Far Right” is averse to Liberty to justify the Hate Speech'”

“Academics Fear the “Hate” of the Internet's Free Speech as a Free Twitter is in the horizon”

To MIT, this news isn't particularly optimistic in the area of constitutional rights. As per Campus Reform, the statement was approved by the faculty senate in an overwhelming vote of 98 votes to 52.

As stated 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 offers an effective defense of freedom of speech. MIT has joined the increasing number of schools that are resisting the movement against free speech…

“Minority” doesn't sound so significant, however its increase could transform the way we think about education. What will it mean? It will be interesting to see.

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