The MIT Free Speech Alliance’s inaugural conference was held September 14, 2023, at the Boston Marriott Cambridge, in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. The more than 60 attendees included numerous MFSA members in addition to MIT students and faculty, as well as representatives of MFSA’s partner and ally organizations.
The theme MFSA chose for the 2023 conference was Building an Open Culture for Free Expression at MIT, and the panels we presented explored the various ways students and faculty – both inside and outside MIT – are working to promote a culture of free inquiry.
Sessions included a panel discussion featuring MIT philosophy professors Brad Skow and Alex Byrne, alongside MIT Concourse Senior Lecturer Linda Rabieh. We were excited to have their participation, as the professors are leading a new initiative promoting civil discourse at MIT this year, another positive step in a series of positive steps we’ve seen taken on free expression at MIT this year. We also hosted a panel discussion featuring MIT professors Malick Ghachem and Steven Graves, who served on the Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression, which authored the Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic freedom adopted by the faculty and later endorsed by MIT President Sally Kornbluth. Given the importance of the service the professors provided to MIT through their work on the committee, whose recommendations the MIT administration is set to begin implementing this year, we were glad to hear from the professors directly.
Other sessions looked beyond MIT to see what lessons it might take from the work being done for free speech at other institutions. A panel with Flynn Cratty and Jane Kamensky, respectively the Executive Director and Co-President of the new Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard, discussed the founding and early work of the new Harvard faculty-led watchdog, whose founding was spurred by Harvard’s numerous lapses on free speech and academic freedom.
Another panel, moderated by former MFSA president Chuck Davis ‘87, now president of the Alumni Free Speech Alliance, brought representatives of four AFSA-affiliated organizations together to discuss their varied approaches to promoting free speech at their alma maters, each with their own unique cultural challenges. Finally, a student panel brought together two MIT and two Harvard students for a candid discussion about their impressions of their institutions’ free speech climates, which have common characteristics in spite of Harvard and MIT’s strikingly different cultures.
Capping the proceedings was the lunchtime keynote speech by Brown University professor Glenn C. Loury, who warned of the negative consequences for freedom of expression that can result from the contemporary embrace of antiracist policies and practices.
We thank Professor Loury for all those from the MIT and MFSA community who joined us this year for a successful inaugural conference. We look forward to making this a yearly occurrence, and to improving on the promise of this year’s event.
Glenn C. Loury is the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University. He has taught previously at Boston, Harvard and Northwestern Universities, and the University of Michigan. He holds a B.A. in Mathematics (Northwestern University, 1972) and a Ph.D. in Economics (MIT, 1976).
As an academic economist, Professor Loury has published mainly in the areas of applied microeconomic theory, game theory, industrial organization, natural resource economics, and the economics of race and inequality. He has been elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Econometric Society, Member of the American Philosophical Society, Vice President of the American Economics Association, and President of the Eastern Economics Association. In 2005 he won the John von Neumann Award (given annually by the Rajk László College of the Budapest University of Economic Science and Public Administration to "an outstanding economist whose research has exerted a major influence on students of the College over an extended period of time.") He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Carnegie Scholarship to support his work. He has given the prestigious Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Stanford (2007), the James A. Moffett ’29 Lectures in Ethics at Princeton (2003), and the DuBois Lectures in African American Studies at Harvard (2000.)
As a prominent social critic and public intellectual, writing mainly on the themes of racial inequality and social policy, Professor Loury has published over 200 essays and reviews in journals of public affairs in the U.S. and abroad. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a contributing editor at The Boston Review, and was for many years a contributing editor at The New Republic. Professor Loury’s books include One by One, From the Inside Out: Essays and Reviews on Race and Responsibility in America (The Free Press, 1995 – winner of the American Book Award and the Christianity Today Book Award); The Anatomy of Racial Inequality (Harvard University Press, 2002); Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy: Comparing the US and the UK (ed., Cambridge University Press, 2005); and, Race, Incarceration and American Values (M.I.T. Press, 2008).