MIT Adopts Free Speech Resolution: “We Cannot Prohibit Speech as Offensive or Injurious.”

We recently discussed schools joining the University of Chicago free speech alliance. Now, the faculty of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have adopted a resolution defending freedom of speech and expression, including speech deemed  “offensive or injurious.” It is a triumph for free speech. However, while 98 faculty voted for the resolution, 52 professors voted against the free speech principles.

The Free Expression Statement is a balanced affirmation of the essential role of free speech in higher education.

“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.”

What is unnerving is that a third of the faculty disagreed with the resolution despite the following reservation:

“MIT does not protect direct threats, harassment, plagiarism, or other speech that falls outside the boundaries of the First Amendment. Moreover, the time, place, and manner of protected expression, including organized protests, may be restrained so as not to disrupt the essential activities of the Institute.”

However, the statement makes the key acknowledgment that “we cannot prohibit speech that some experience as offensive or injurious.” That is clearly unacceptable for many in academia. Silencing opposing views or voices has become a core principle for many professors who now refer to free speech as an ever present danger on campuses.

MIT has not always stood by free speech. As we previously discussed, the university yielded to cancel culture by barring a guest lecture to be given by University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot in 2021.

MIT also attracted criticism over abandoning standardized testing to achieve greater diversity. It later reversed that decision.

The new resolution is a victory for the “MIT Free Speech Alliance,” which has fought to defend free speech against a growing number of faculty.

University of Chicago emeritus biology Professor Jerry Coyne raised some good-faith objections on his Why Evolution Is True blog, including  the resolution “calling for ‘civility and mutual respect’, as well as ‘considering the possibility of offense and injury’. You simply cannot have free speech without offense and injury. Abbot’s invitation provoked precisely such offense and injury, with many people supporting his deplatforming.”

However, the references are part of a graph that refers to the personal responsibility of faculty to maintain civility and mutual respect. It follows an express protection for offensive speech:

“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. This applies broadly. For example, when MIT leaders speak on matters of public interest, whether in their own voice or in the name of MIT, this should always be understood as being open to debate by the broader MIT community.”

Overall, the resolution is a powerful defense of free speech. MIT has joined a growing minority of schools resisting the anti-free speech movement discussed in my recent law review article. Jonathan Turley, Harm and Hegemony: The Decline of Free Speech in the United States, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

54 thoughts on “MIT Adopts Free Speech Resolution: “We Cannot Prohibit Speech as Offensive or Injurious.””

  1. Hallelujah! This is real “woke”! MIT takes a giant step toward a sane world. Students who violate such rules should be expelled and professors fired.

    1. Agreeable speech does not need defending. Is the concept of free speech too sophisticated for some of the professors or are they merely part of the low standard which has become common place among professors and higher academia in general, in my opinion? What makes them suspect of anti-American thoughts is their lack of wanting freedom and liberty for all, ideals upon which our country was founded. Or perhaps they are mere small minded control types who are often petulant in wanting things their way. It seems that type is the bully playing the victim which is part of the new low standard of behavior of so many today.

  2. maybe now all the “SCIENTIFICALLY BIASED” physicists at MIT can make a clear-eyed examination of the “hydrino” particule discovered by Dr. Randell Mills MD, Harvard. He claims it is the Hydrogen atom collapsed to inert fractional states below the rest state. Mills has them in his laboratory in NJ and can send the particles to be analysed; in fact, Mills has a lot of independent verification. BUT HE HAS BEEN CAST OUT OF THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY because FREE SPEECH was denied to him. cf. his site: wwwbrilliantlightpower.com

  3. Silence the 52 socialists for 3 days and see if they change their tune. As a young lad I lived in the SF bay area with all the daily free speech riots at Cal Berkeley and even observed one after they had become daily routines. These are the people who are now running this country into the mud.

  4. Was there anything worse than crushing the free speech of doctors and medical scientists who tried to warn of the dangers of the shot?

    1. No, there wasn’t. Thousands died or were handicapped because of that. Disgusting and immoral.

  5. I am skeptical, to say the least, because who in American discourse beyond “the fringe” does not support silencing BDS? The marginalizing of this movement was not only anti-free speech, it was and is an entirely bipartisan affair. It is really at the point where there is no such thing as defense of “free speech” unless each party is talking about the lies they want to spread unhindered.

    There is “free speech,” in other words, and then there is things you don’t want your opponents mentioning. Same as it ever was, and same as it will continue to be.

    1. The very first of the Bill Of Rights and after nearly 250 years of history they don’t vote 150 to zero. Apparently these 52 higher educators failed civics during their lower education.

  6. We have great minds like yours, Professor Turley, to thank for victories like this.

    And we have to give credit where credit is due. I’m not a Noam Chomsky fan, but I know he has very publicly fought for free speech. I checked the signatories, and his name was there. He deserves special credit for putting so much on the line professionally to defend freedom. He appears to have won the day at MIT.

    Intellectual integrity takes courage. Conformity, not so much.

    1. MIT class of 77 here. Over the decades I was despairing at how wokey the college was getting, delighted to see it returning to the notion of intellectual discourse. Let’s hope they follow through–

  7. In 1978, the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union supported the constitutional right of Ku Klux Klansman to march together down the streets of Skokie, Illinois. The ACLU correctly believed that, in America, you had a constitutional right not only to be racist but to peaceably express your racism in public. The ACLU also believed that, in America, you had a constitutional right to oppose the KKK and racism and to peaceably express that disagreement in public.

  8. Nothing on here for a while so maybe a good time to ask. Some people are able to use italics, bold, cross-through, and other font modifications. How do you do that? I know I sound like an ignoramus but kindly indulge me.

    1. Oldmanfromkansas,

      for formatting of the text you can use basic HTML tags in your reply. Basically they take the form of tags enclosed within < & > characters. Here are some examples. Just place the subject text between the tag and the closing tag having the forward slash. Make sure you close each tag you create. The examples below show the text as affected by the tags present. You can make nested tags to give the text multiple attributes.

      Plain unmodified text
      <I>Text in Italics</I>
      <B>Boldfaced Text</B>
      <EM>Emphasized Text</EM>
      <STRIKE>Strike Through Text</STRIKE>
      <U>Underlined Text</U>
      <STRIKE><B><I>Strike, Bold & Italics</I></B></STRIKE>

      This covers most of what is commonly used here. There are also some interfaces with wordpress such as the Reader that have these tags as buttons but I don’t know if you use such a reader.

  9. Jonathan: No one cannot support MIT’s resolution in support of free expression. But you used the occasion to attack the 52 faculty that voted against the resolution. In your words they are “against free speech principles”. I took the time to review the “Report of the MIT Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression” (6/24/22) that was apparently the basis for the new policy. Towards the end of the report there is a a section detailing a survey that was conducted of MIT alumni about the suggested recommendations in the report. The report states that 310 responses were received: “59%…thought MIT is great or average at addressing matters related to freedom of expression, 22% were disappointed…”. There were a number of reasons given by the 22% but one objection was that “MIT gave in to ‘cancel culture’ and ‘wokeness’ along with an overemphasis on DEI”. The usual complaint from conservatives.

    What would be interesting to know, which you did not provide, is the reasons given, if any, for those who voted against the resolution. Did they, as you claim, simply vote “against free speech principles” or were there other reasons? I would imagine many of the 52 had varied reasons for their vote. Some who voted against the resolution may have felt it did not go far enough or there is not enough protection against “hate” speech. Who knows. So please provide us with a break-down of the vote of the 52 so we can judge for ourselves. Unfortunately, your conclusion about why the 52 voted as they did has encouraged some of your loyal followers to jump to erroneous conclusions–that the 52 MIT faculty “still favor censorship”, and should “have their heads examined”–or they are “history challenged communists or their sympathizers”. All sorts of non-sense. And, unfortunately, you have encouraged this kind of thinking on this blog.

    1. Dennis McIntyre: you misquoted the professor. He did *not* say 52 faculty members voted “against free speech principles.” He said they voted against “the free speech principles.” The word “the” is crucial because, in context, it refers back to the document itself, which they undoubtedly voted against. And referring to that document as containing free speech principles is entirely accurate. Also, do you have reason to believe the 52 no-votes gave their reasons for voting against it which are now a matter of record? You demand the reasons from the professor but on an (admittedly somewhat brief) internet search I was unable to locate anything along those lines.

      Separately, when you denigrate concerns over cancel culture, wokeness, and DEI as “the usual complaint of conservatives,” are you suggesting these are not important concerns? I would think anyone who has been alive in America and paying attention for the past 20 years or so can, if they are honest, admit that these are serious threats to freedom of expression. But based on your prior comments I’m under the impression that freedom of expression is not something you think very valuable. Kindly correct me if I’m wrong.

      1. oldmanfromkansas: Let me correct you. I am in favor of the MIT resolution and “free speech principles”–at least in principle. My problem with Prof. Turley is that his idea of “free speech” is confined to conservatives and how he believes they are being censored at many institutions. I think he overstates his case. He has offered a few anecdotal cases in the past but has not shown, in my opinion. that there is some sort of left-wing institutional bias against conservative ideas. Then there is the issue of book banning in schools around the country. I have raised this issue in my many comments. For me, booking banning and other forms of censorship are major “free speech” issues. When teachers are censored on what they can teach, when students don’t have access to certain books in the library because conservatives oppose them, that is violation of basic “free speech principles”. Turley has never addressed this issue and why I don’t think he is serious on this issue. If he were he would apply “free speech” across the board.

        Finally, Turley said specifically in his column, and I quote: “52 professors voted against the free speech principles” and “a third of the faculty disagreed with the resolution,,,”. What am I missing here? I don’t “demand” anything from Turley. And I too was unable to find any source for how/why the 52 voted. Turley apparently does and I suggested he provide more info on the faculty vote. Without a breakdown of the faculty vote and the reasons given, I think Turley is premature to conclude the 52 “voted against free speech principles”. .

        1. Dennis McIntyre – You ask, “What am I missing here?” I told you exactly what you were missing. I spelled it out in detail. I have until now given you the benefit of the doubt and assumed you were arguing in good faith. Your refusal to acknowledge that you materially misquoted Professor Turkey is undermining my confidence in that presumption.

        2. Book banning in the context of primary and secondary education is NOT a “free speech” issue. Schools have every right to set their own curricula. Similarly, a middle school library is NOT the same as public library. Educators and parents have every right to impose restrictions on the former. Curation is literally the role of educators.

          Read more. Post less.

    2. Dennis McIntyre sure can complicate a simple story. Let me put it more succinctly for you. Resolved: speakers should be allowed to speak without being shouted down. 52 of those who voted no do not believe that free speech should be allowed on campus. Just thought I’d simplify it for you Dennis to make it easier for you to grasp. I’ll admit you could give Saul Goodman a run for his money. Better dial Dennis.

      1. Thinkitthrough: dittos. Be ever on the lookout for the red herring, the blowing of smoke, the ad hominem arguments. All of which have the same purpose: to distract from the real issue. Cut through that smoke and bring the discussion back to the real issue. As you have done.

    3. “Protection against ‘hate speech?’”
      Isn’t the point that so-called “hate speech”, in whatever direction, is exactly the speech which needs protecting the most?

  10. My fondest hope is that MIT will follow up its words with the removal of students who disrupt a speaker. I offer up my heartfelt gratitude for the change in MIT’s policy. Enforcement will tell the tale. Let’s hope that their not all hat no cowboy.

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