First Amendment, Freedom of Expression Under Threat at MIT

By Jonathan Walker | December 27, 2021
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
50
A view of the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology on July 08, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
A view of the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology on July 08, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Image: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Community members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have formed a Free Speech Alliance to counter the rising liberal intolerance at the institution. The group is advocating to strengthen protections for academic freedom.

MIT Free Speech Alliance accuses the institution of having turned “hostile” towards free speech “like many universities” recently. It cited the example of censorship slapped on geoscientist Dorian Abbott. 

In October, MIT canceled a speaking invitation to Abbott as he had expressed a personal opinion that merit should not be superseded by identity politics. MIT was forced to take such a stand after heavy negative press coverage of Abbot by the extreme left.

Following the incident, MIT held two faculty forums at which time the faculty chair Lily Tsai polled attendees on two questions: firstly, whether they felt their voices or their colleagues’ voices were being constrained at the institution on a daily basis; and secondly, whether they are worried that their voices are “increasingly in jeopardy” given the current atmosphere of society. While 50 percent responded “yes” to the first question, the number went up to 80 percent for the second question.

The fact that a large majority of polled faculty at MIT feels that their voices are being restricted “reveals a crisis demanding decisive action,” the group says.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has also joined the MIT Free Speech Alliance in condemning the institution’s failure to protect freedom of expression. A survey conducted by FIRE showed that only 21 percent of MIT students feel their administration makes it “very” or “extremely” clear that they protect free speech at MIT. Less than 17 percent believed that the administration is “very” or “extremely” likely to uphold free speech rights if a controversy over free speech was to erupt.

“FIRE urges MIT to adopt a free speech policy statement in the model of the Chicago Statement… With 13 of the schools ranked in the top 25 of FIRE’s College Free Speech Rankings having endorsed the Chicago Statement — FIRE, faculty, and alumni are determined to bring academic freedom back to MIT. Now the administration just needs to remember what it stands for,” the organization said in a press release. The Chicago Statement is a commitment to protecting free speech in academics.

Two MIT alumni have also written open letters in which they announced stopping donations to the institute after it bowed down to “woke” pressure.

“The current MIT administration has caved repeatedly to the demands of ‘wokeness’, treating its students unfairly, compromising the quality of its staff, and damaging the institution and academic freedom at large. We object to MIT’s politically correct measures,” the open letter stated. The duo suggested MIT adopt “principles of fairness” to redeem itself.