Survey: Many MIT Faculty Fear Speaking Freely While Students Support Barring Speakers with Opposing Views

There is a fascinating and chilling survey on the state of free speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The newly released Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) survey shows a growing fear among faculty over their ability to speak freely in classes or other forums on campus. Conversely, a majority of students believe that it is acceptable to shout down or block speakers who hold opposing views. The survey captures the downstream impact of students who have been taught in their primary, middle, and high school educations that speech is harmful and preventing free speech is a noble and necessary action.

A recently discussed poll showed roughly 60 percent of students say that they fear speaking openly in class. That percentage is consistent with other polls taken across the country. The MIT polling shows that many faculty feel the same way and that the perceived intolerance on campus has increased dramatically in the last few years.

MIT is a microcosm of these concerns and underlying confusion over free speech and academic freedom protections. We have been following the struggle at the university after the outrageous decision to cancel a lecture by University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot in 2021. It was a disgraceful decision that tarnished the reputation of MIT as an institution of higher learning. Yet, no one was punished or reprimanded for the action.

MIT recently seemed to redeem itself to some degree with a powerful statement in support of free speech. However, many faculty and students are clearly not convinced.

The survey found that roughly 25 percent of faculty reported they are “very” or “extremely” likely to self-censor. Forty percent of faculty are “more” or “much more” likely to self-censor on campus now than in 2020. It further found that 32 percent of students and 41 percent of faculty “agree that the administration’s stance on free speech is not clear.”

There should never be any such widespread doubt on the position of free speech on a campus. It should be clear and unambiguous. However, almost half of the faculty are unsure. The reason is obvious after the Abbot disaster. The university leadership is clearly not viewed as a reliable ally in free speech fights. It is one thing to mouth free speech values. It is entirely a different thing to stand by a faculty member’s free speech and academic freedom rights when a flash mob forms around a cancel campaign.

Only 14 percent of MIT faculty believe that it is “extremely likely” or “very likely” that the university would stand by a faculty member in a controversy over controversial speech. That is an indictment of the entire university administration and the university board.  What is notable with this data is that only a small percentage (if any) of faculty self-identify as Republican or conservative. Yet, a significant percentage still fear speaking openly in their own classes or on campuses.

Yet, what is most striking is the attitude of the students who have been taught for years that free speech is harmful. Seventy-seven percent of students believe that it is acceptable to shout down speakers with opposing views to prevent others from hearing them. Another 52% believe it is acceptable to physically block access to such events or speakers. That is the result of the new orthodoxy taught in our school system where free speech is viewed as harmful.

Cancel campaigns are now a common pattern in schools ranging from Yale to Northwestern to Georgetown.  Blocking others from speaking is not the exercise of free speech. It is the very antithesis of free speech. Nevertheless, faculty have supported such claims. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,”  Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself and resigned).

This dangerous trend in academia is discussed in my law review article, Jonathan Turley, “Harm and Hegemony: The Decline of Free Speech in the United States”, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

We have seen how this can turn into a type of “heckler’s veto” where speeches are cancelled in advance or terminated suddenly due to the disruption of protesters. The issue is not engaging in protests against such speakers, but to enter events for the purpose of preventing others from hearing such speakers. Universities create forums for the discussion of a diversity of opinions. Entering a classroom or event to prevent others from speaking is barring free speech. I would feel the same way about preventing such people from protesting outside such events. However, the concern is not with outdoor events where all groups can be as loud and cantankerous as their voices will bear. Both sides have free speech rights to express. The issue on campus is the entrance into halls, or classrooms to prevent others from hearing speakers or opposing viewpoints by disputing events.

This has been an issue of contention with some academics who believe that free speech includes the right to silence others.  Berkeley has been the focus of much concern over the use of a heckler’s veto on our campuses as violent protesters have succeeded in silencing speakers, even including a few speakers like an ACLU official.  Both students and some faculty have maintained the position that they have a right to silence those with whom they disagree and even student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech.  At another University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.  In the meantime, academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech.

The two sides of the FIRE survey on faculty and student views are clearly and dangerously related. Faculty are engaging in greater self-censorship as students become more emboldened in seeking to silence those with opposing views. At the same time, as students assert the right to shutdown events and speakers, the Administration is seen as, at most, a pedestrian or, at worst, an enabler of the cancel culture.

The MIT survey shows that we are raising the most speech-intolerant generation in our history with students taught for years that speech is harmful and must be controlled, censored, or confined. It is not enough to protest, it is a license to silence speakers and to prevent access to events or lectures. It is the face of the new American orthodoxy that has taken hold of our institutions of high education.

110 thoughts on “Survey: Many MIT Faculty Fear Speaking Freely While Students Support Barring Speakers with Opposing Views”

  1. There is more to this than meets the eye. Yes, the progressive teaching for decades has spawned what has been hatched on campuses for the last few years in the matters of speech as well as many other ares in the universities and colleges.
    However there is one area which has been overlooked and almost totally ignored and that is accreditation. The accrediting commissions in multiple fields of education have been co-opted. If the accrediting process started to address this speech issue and threatened to withhold accreditation for failure to safeguard and promote real free speech you could go a long way towards reversing this trend.
    For example The Liaison Committee on Medical Education accredits medical schools and recently accredited the University of Utah Medical School and stipulated in the accreditation that they needed to enhance and recruit more minority students and to use more of the process of Diversity, Inclusiveness, and Equity in their students and faculty and processes.
    Indiana University School of Medicine announced the same process in late 2021. So if you are wandering how education in “conservative states” is being suborned to the progressive ideal you don’t have to look further than the accrediting commissions.
    Also many of these commissions were set up by the same organizations they accredit but have long since become independent. Also they receive a stamp of approval from, wait for it, the US Dept of Education. Would you not like to see the the e-mails and conference minutes between the Obama Dept of Education and the Biden Dept of Education and these accrediting commissions.
    Gives a little more depth to the all out attack which was raged against Betsy Devos and the Trump Dept of Education. Seems like a good project for Judicial Watch, House Committee on education, and a variety of other interested parties.
    Organizations will do almost anything to retain accreditation, as my experience in medicine tells me.

    1. Economist and sometimes social commentator, Charles H. Smith, has noted in the past rather than accredit the institution, accredit the student.
      He has suggested a paid internship at a company, or say, hospital with a well defined, objective program, with testing to ensure the student/intern learns field related knowledge and skills.
      After a given period of time, e.g. two, four, six years depending on the complexity of the field, the student/intern is accredited as having say a MBA, a nurse, an electrical engineer, doctor, etc. without all those useless classes.

  2. This a.m.’s column started out with commenters discussing religious underpinnings of “Rapture,” e.g., commenter Gee Trieste says, “As an atheist, in reading the scriptures, I too mostly agree that the Rapture follows the Tribulations,” in response to commenter Rob, etc.and talk of a 7-year buildup.
    Actually, I see this post’s topic as purely secular.
    We are talking about the increasing possibility of a global hegemony (as Turley has often pointed out). We may have known or experienced this intolerance in academia at a more local level, as exposed by school boards or local news. But I thank the good professor Turley for informing us (involving several posts) of how pervasive/systemic this development is in higher education -And frighteningly, how subtle and penetrable it can be for our collective youth.
    I see this trend more as a disparagement and destruction of critical thinking/assessment/discernment between competing ideologies, historically utilized to train our students. Think George Hegel and his model of “thesis, antithesis, synthesis,” -or open Socratic debates. Now our youth(s) are instructed in the One Way, the Real Truth. All else be damned.
    I relate it to the rise of China’s “One Belt, One Road” economic tactic that continues to absorb anything else in its way, and its increasing expanse to include a destiny of “One [correct] Path to Truth,” i.e., NO competing path, ideology, or Way to the Truth will be considered or tolerated.

    1. China’s new ‘silk road’ initiative is based upon long-established peaceful trade between sovereign nations. It’s ‘partners’ are well-compensated – including especially the U.S.A. After all, we are not communists here (h/t The Godfather).

      In the 21st century, no country on earth has continued “to absorb anything else in its way, and its increasing expanse to include a destiny of “One [correct] Path to Truth,” i.e., NO competing path, ideology, or Way to the Truth will be considered or tolerated.” quite like the U.S.

      *’knowledge is a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it’ ~ Chinese proverb

      1. Hello dgsnowden:
        (1) Are you still running for president?
        (2) You might want to update your information about the original (ostensible) objective of restoring the ancient Silk Road to its current expansion under BRI, -as well as criticism from many other global powers regarding China’s calculated tactic of loaning development funds to weak countries, then gaining economic and political control/concessions over them when they inevitably default on the loans.
        Indeed, the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that: “One Belt, One Road aims to develop China-centered and -controlled global infrastructure, transportation, trade, and production networks.”
        There are numerous academic articles about China’s plan for global dominance, using BRI and other innocuous-sounding ventures, like the nostalgic “Silk Road Initiative.”
        Thanks for noting the proverb, ’knowledge is a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it’ ~ Chinese proverb

        1. I was thinking the same thing, Lin. I’ve read repeatedly about Pakistan and other countries being basically swindled by BRI companies.

        2. Hi Lin

          1. No, I’m not running for president. I’m against ‘running’ for president in general – it’s against my religion. It’s unseemly and an enormous waste of money, time and the country’s intellectual resources .. . such as they are.

          I am, somewhat facetiously, encouraging everyone to ‘write in’ young cousin Ed Snowden (distant, once removed.) for President. We need new blood. He’s a fine, intelligent, honest young man, and his soul is intact. A true Patriot
          What choice do we have, Trump v Biden redux? That way lies madness. The country will not tolerate it. imho.

          Of course, there is also the matter of Snowden’s trump-up espionage charges outstanding. That would need to be resolved.

          Plus, Putin seems genuinely fond of Edward. As an old KGB spook himself, I think Putin can probably empathize with yound Ed’s predicament. .. peace is made such ways.

          .. . what was your second suggestion?

          2. Oh, China and the new Silk Road 2.0. Yeah, I’m not vouching for the PRC’s business practices. Trust but verify is my motto.

          In general though, I haven’t noticed any predatory ROI from China’s 7 trillion Y investment. I’ll keep looking.

          *my point here is that by any reasonable and fair [objective] standard, it is U.S. hegemony in the 21st century, in particular, that most urgently needs to be addressed.


  3. Dear Prof Turley,

    Whew. That was close. Biden told them to ‘take it down’ .. . one less thing to worry about.

    >”What is notable with this data is that only a small percentage (if any) of faculty self-identify as Republican or conservative. Yet, a significant percentage still fear speaking openly in their own classes or on campuses.” ~ Prof Turley

    lol. I don’t blame them. The kids are not stupid. I don’t care what ‘self-identified’ faculty – Republicans and Democrats – say. They’re deranged.

    And you would have to be stupid – blind in one eye, can’t see out of the other – to spout such nonsense in the classroom these days. Bulls in a China shop. I’d rather listen to rap music and flip the script. Force Majeure.

    What goes around comes around, even at MIT. .. or Georgetown.

    *’the point of the compass in describing a circle makes no retrograde motion’ ~ statement attributed to Ferdinand Magellan, the first person to circumnavigate the globe.

  4. It would appear humanity has indeed turned out to be the ‘smartest monkeys’. I really don’t know how we reverse this with so many kids involved believing so many antithetical ideas or outright falsities. My wife teaches middle school, and I’m telling you a lot of them are *this* close to being almost feral, and the rest are so woefully incompetent all one can do is shake their head. We are in for a very rocky road, and soon; why did no one care to talk about this 20 or 30 years ago?

    As an aside, anyone in the private sector seriously discussing allowing teens to vote is either SUPREMELY insularly privileged or straight up insane.

    1. Now that we know – the science tells us – that the higher reasoning centers of the human brain are not fuly formed until at least the mid-20s, we should be considering raising the voting age to 25, not lowering it. Anyone who is in favor of a 16-year-old voting wants votes cast out of hormonal emotion, not reason of any kind.

    2. I certainly cannot imagine this generation of youngsters storming the beaches of Normandy. Xi and Putin continue to lick their lips waiting for just the right moment to strike.

  5. “. . . the downstream impact of students who have been taught” since childhood to indulge their every whim, that boundaries are “oppressive.” that personal responsibility is a myth, that self-esteem does not have to be earned, that others exist to satisfy one’s malicious desires.

    If you raise spoiled children, you get self-indulgent, bratty college students.

  6. Read H.G. Wells’ “Outline of History” first written in the 1920’s…it clearly demonstrates what happens when Machiavellians gain total centralized power as the Democrats have done in DC! Empires DIE!

  7. Time to END all federal aid and loans for colleges and cities. Also any non-profit giving anyone $100k+ can PAY TAXES. If you can have a multi-billion Dollar endowment and Million Dollar coaches and Faculty…you can pay TAXES like the little people!

    1. A better move is to eliminate all business taxes. They are all fundimentally double taxation and distort investment.
      There is no reason for a non-profit, or charity to be taxed, there is no reason for a business ot be taxed.

      Non-profits – pay people – and those people are taxed.

      For Profit companis pay employees, and eventually provide profits to owners. Income – including investment income should be taxed.

      We should have a single tax system. We shoudl tax money at only ONE place in the economy.

      either as income to individuals, or as taxes on the exchange of goods (sales tax).

      Futher All taxes MUST be on People – because otherwise we hide the cost of people’s voting decisions from them.

      When the left rants “tax the rich” or “tax business” what they are saying is we promise people government benefits without cost.
      That is theft.

      But more important it is a lie. No matter where you levy taxes, one way or another they are paid for by ordinary people.
      That is not just how it is, it is how it must be.

      What is important is that WE KNOW what we are paying – that it is not hidden in higher prices.

  8. When Fascists Take Over…everyone should fear….well except the MOST Corrupt…like the Clintons, Bidens, Pelosis, etc. THEIR DOJ and FBI allow them to commit crimes at will!

  9. Brainwashing at all educational levels. We had better straighten this out. Mao killed 30 million people.

  10. Free speech policies enacted by college administrators across the United States 40 years ago were supported by the left and the right. Today, it is sad that free-speech policies are considered acts of fascism by the left and equally sad that they are considered acts of courage by the right.

  11. MIT used to be synonymous with high intelligence.

    There action, on the other hand expose administrators and professors that don’t even believe they have what it takes to support their vision.

    1. However puzzling it may be, often there are those with high intelligence that are so fixated or ‘educated’ in some perspective, they think in abbreviated thoughts that they’ve concluded to be shortcuts of truth, and that it subsumes their lateral thinking ability. Sam Harris and Neil deGrasse Tyson are a good examples.

  12. Thirty percent of students at MIT are international. Half of these are from Asia. The free speech tradition certainly is less prominent among this portion of the student body. The remaining US portion grows more woke by the day. The result of this survey is hardly surprising.

  13. The irony, is that by self censoring, these cowards enable the very behaviors, they themselves detest. They are by it’s very nature, complicit in their own destruction.

    1. self censoring is a survival mechanism. Try being an outspoken conservative on Wall Street, major corporation, Nazis Prison guard, College employee, Mao’s Cultural Revolution target, Government employee, a Russian in Stalin’s USSR, etc

      We live in a Fascist America…just ask Trump and the people around him….continually abused by an all powerful government.
      Then ask the Bidens who’s numerous crimes we know…but NOTHING EVER HAPPENS!

  14. This tracks the same path in a number of historical societal/governmental crashes of the 1800s and 1900s, almost exactly.
    A softening up, and educational grooming of the youth for several decades to a particular ideology, braced by the fundamental precept that you have the moral right to silence those who disagree with your ideology.
    A problem with most humans’ psychology is that if you believe something to be True, others’ perspectives are necessarily False. And the corollary to that is that falsehoods should not be allowed to be heard.
    It takes an extra intellectual effort to both understand that what you believe to be true may not be so, and irrespective of that fact you do not have the right to silence other speakers’ expression of what they consider to be true — whether it is or isn’t true.

  15. Check out the video on YouTube of Christopher Rufo courageously refusing to allow the Provost and President of a college in Florida to cancel a public meeting called by the Trustees because of ugly threats by some on the left. College administrators are a significant part of the problem here.

  16. It is becoming common at all campuses. Cornell has long been a cesspool of allowing only speech that the radical Left approves.

    1. As an atheist, in reading the scriptures, I too mostly agree that the Rapture follows the Tribulations.
      However, in common parlance, the usage of the word Rapture is far more impactful, as it already implies the Tribulations, and the word “tribulations” means too many alternate things.
      The Rapture sums it up rather succinctly, and for those not familiar with the distinctions, significance and intricacies of the scriptures, it conveys the pertinent existential cosmic dread/exultation as needed for impending alarm.

  17. These highly educated professors and administrators have opened the door to fascism.

    How long before the definition of permissible “free speech” changes again?

    Our “smartest” people are so arrogant that they planted the seeds of destruction for all of us.

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