MFSA believes that one approach to restoring MIT's former open culture is to model civil discourse and debate on controversial and contentious topics by holding formal, moderated public discussions – debates, panel discussions, and presentations with public Q&A. Our preferred approach is structured public debates. We believe these are the best proxies for the discussions of opposing viewpoints that should be taking place in the labs, in the dorms, across the dining tables, and in the offices. Debates over focused topics are also an effective tool for expanding the Overton window of subjects that can be seriously discussed in public.
The MIT faculty Ad Hoc Committee of Free Expression provided several recommendations to help improve cultural support and tolerance for free speech on the MIT campus. The Committee noted that learning to engage in dialogue concerning controversial matters is a developmental skill that can be taught, improved, and encouraged. The recommendation specifically aimed at that was for MIT to identify and encourage pedagogical practices that enhance student skills involving the exchange of challenging ideas. Partly in response to this recommendation, MIT has initiated two new programs, the Dialogues Across Differences and the Civil Discourse Project. The debate program that MFSA co-sponsors at MIT reinforces and augments those initiatives. The MIT community needs more examples of open and civil discourse, because cancel culture and self-censorship has become so pernicious and pervasive throughout the Institute, because it has become embedded over many years, and because it continues to be reinforced by the broader social forces opposing freedom of expression.
Debate: Should academic DEI programs be abolished? – April 4, 2023
MFSA co-sponsored our first debate on the MIT campus, open to all members of the MIT community, in the spring of 2023.