MFSA Recommendations

MFSA Recommendations for Restoring Free Speech at MIT

The MIT faculty Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression (AHWG) developed MIT’s Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom (the Statement) in 2022. That Statement was presented in a 55 page report that also described the process followed by the AHWG, several hypothetical scenarios illustrating how to interpret the Statement, and ten specific recommendations to improve free speech and academic freedom at MIT.

MFSA endorses the ten AHWG recommendations and urges MIT to implement them all. We also suggest some modifications to those recommendations to strengthen and improve them.

The MIT culture that encouraged open and passionate expression, tolerated diverse viewpoints, and enshrined academic freedom has been eroding. This cultural erosion has taken place over decades and has permeated throughout the MIT community. Restoring this culture, an essential foundation of MIT’s exceptionalism, requires a comprehensive and extended set of programs, initiatives, and policy changes.

The ten AHWG recommendations are a good starting point, but they are not sufficient to lead the MIT community back to its free speech roots. To augment the AHWG recommendations, MFSA recommends a broader range of initiatives and policy changes for MIT to also pursue – the MFSA Recommendations.

MFSA Priority Recommendations

MFSA proposes five highest priority Recommendations for putting the Statement into practice alongside the AHWG recommendations to restore a culture of free expression at MIT.

  1. Protect the reputation of the Institute and the diversity of viewpoints by adopting an institutional neutrality policy such as the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report.

  2. Develop an institution or body within MIT that is responsible for addressing concerns around free speech and for organizing the various activities necessary to foster a culture of free speech.

  3. Include required instruction on free speech and expression and  MIT’s free speech policies for MIT students at all levels.

  4. Educate administrative staff on the importance of free expression and viewpoint diversity.

  5. Reform the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response office to ensure proper transparency as well as to limit its actions towards members of the MIT community which inhibit free expression.

More detailed explanations of MFSA highest priority Recommendations, along with our rationale for their importance, are presented here.

Additional MFSA Recommendations

MFSA also proposes additional Recommendations that can assist MIT in developing proper policies and ensuring a proper culture and institutional safeguards for support of freedom of speech. The subordination of these Recommendations does not diminish their importance, but acknowledges that not all changes can be done at once, and so some prioritization is necessary. MFSA’s additional Recommendations are presented here.

AHWG Recommendations

Of the ten AHWG recommendations, the first was for MIT to issue its own Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom. That Statement was adopted by the MIT faculty and endorsed by the MIT President, completing the first recommendation.

MFSA endorses the remaining nine AHWG recommendations, although we propose some modifications to strengthen and improve them. Our assessment of the remaining AHWG recommendations is presented here along with our proposed modifications.

Other Information

Towards the end of 2023, MIT created a faculty-led Committee on Academic Freedom and Campus Expression (CAFCE) to consider the remaining AHWG recommendations and to propose specific programs and policy changes to implement them. The charter of CAFCE is relatively focused and does not cover all of the areas in which MFSA has made its Recommendations. Consequently, MFSA has presented its Recommendations to both CAFCE and to the MIT President.

The complete formal MFSA Recommendations document can be downloaded as a PDF.

The erosion of free speech, viewpoint diversity and academic freedom is unfortunately a national phenomenon. Many other universities are wrestling with how to restore these values to their own communities. While every university is different, and their free speech challenges are unique, other organizations have made recommendations for restoring free speech and academic freedom, both university-specific and generically. Other examples of recommendations for improving the free speech culture at universities are listed here.