MIT’s free speech problem

Does Massachusetts Institute of Technology have a free speech problem? Daryl Morey, an alumnus of MIT, thinks so and wrote about it for The Wall Street Journal. In the new author’s text, Morey writes:

The data points to a growing problem: According to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, MIT ranks a staggering 181st out of 203 universities when it comes to students’ belief that the administration will protect their free speech rights. FIRE reports that mistrust extends to MIT faculty: 38% say they don’t believe the administration would defend the rights of speakers during the controversy. Forty percent of MIT faculty said they are more likely to self-censor starting in the summer of 2022 than they were before 2020. Among students, 41% are not confident in the administration’s ability to protect controversial speech. These are disheartening statistics for one of the world’s best research institutions.

If MIT professors, who are at the cutting edge of science and technology, cannot count on their employer to defend open research, it could prevent them from taking innovative risks. This in turn would prevent technological progress and the education of the next generation of innovators.

One step MIT can take to address this problem, Morey writes, is for the MIT president to endorse the MIT Statement on Free Expression and Academic Freedom, which the faculty adopted last month.

The statement calls on MIT to embrace its tradition of “provocative thinking, controversial views and non-conformism.” While the community has the right to expect a “collegial environment for respectful learning and work,” the institution “cannot ban speech that some perceive as offensive or hurtful.” The statement affirms that debate and “reflection on controversial ideas are hallmarks of the Institute’s educational and research mission and are central to the pursuit of truth, knowledge, equality, and justice.”

A resounding public endorsement of Ms. Kornbluth’s statement would make clear to current and future faculty and students that the university will protect speech.

It’s worth noting that Morey has some experience with backlash for controversial speech. Back in 2019, while working for the Houston Rockets, Morey took to Twitter to support protesters in Hong Kong. Given his efforts to cultivate the Chinese market — which requires staying at the mercy of the Chinese government — the NBA was none too pleased with Morey’s statement. Morey never apologized for his tweet (nor should he), as much as others didn’t like it.

Given Morey’s support for individual liberty and free expression, it seems fitting that he is now president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that draws its inspiration from the nation’s founding and the Declaration of Independence.

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