UPDATE: MIT faculty vote to adopt free expression statement

Faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology voted to adopt the Chicago Principles, which are considered the gold standard for free speech.

The MIT Free Speech Alliance, which supported the principles, formed after a department disinvited a lecturer because of an op-ed he wrote about DEI.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty members recently adopted a Free Expression Statement, which “unequivocally endorses the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom.” 

This statement, an MIT website says, is the university’s version of the Chicago Principles, adopted by the University of Chicago in 2014. The Chicago Principles are considered the gold standard for campus speech policy because “over 80 institutions” have endorsed them, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). 

Of the 150 MIT faculty members who voted, 98 voted in favor of the resolution, columnist, professor, and attorney Jonathan Turley reported. 

“We’re very pleased with the faculty’s endorsement of the free expression statement, and we hope it can act as a springboard to further action by MIT to take measures to improve the culture of free expression at the institution,” Peter Bonilla, Executive Director of the MIT Free Speech Alliance, told Campus Reform

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“There are myriad actions university leaders can take in pursuit of this goal, and we hope that Sally Kornbluth, MIT’s new president, will make promoting and protecting free expression a high priority as she settles into her role. At a STEM institution like MIT, it’s especially vital that a culture conducive to unfettered inquiry prevails.” 

Kornbluth assumed the presidency in January, according to an announcement from MIT. 

Campus Reform contacted MIT’s media relations office, which shared a recent interview with Kornbluth. 

You’ve got to foster a culture where freedom of speech is strongly supported, even if that speech is maybe something someone doesn’t want to hear,” Kornbluth told City Life

She continued to say in her interview that “it’s the role of an educational institution to expose students to ideas or positions that they might not have otherwise entertained or heard.”

The faculty statement echoes Kornbluth’s position. The statement reads, “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.”

MIT makes it clear that free expression includes speech that some students and faculty might find “offensive or injurious.” The statement does clarify that the university does not support or protect speech that is “outside the boundaries of the First Amendment.” 

Part of the statement appears to reference an incident that inspired the formation of the MIT Free Speech Alliance. 

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 statement reads. 

As Campus Reform reported, a department head canceled a lecture because the speaker wrote an op-ed about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). DEI, Professor Dorian Abbot of the University of Chicago argued, “treats persons as merely means to an end, giving primacy to a statistic over the individuality of a human being.”

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In a letter announcing the statement, then-President Rafael Reif wrote that “freedom of expression” is “fundamental MIT value.”

“We must ensure that different points of view–even views that some or all of us may reject or find offensive–are allowed to be heard and debated on our campus,” he continued. I am convinced we must be prepared to endure such painful outcomes as the price of protecting free expression–the principle is that important.”

Campus Reform contacted the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.