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MIT and Freedom of Expression

MIT is the best and most prestigious STEM university in the world. A major reason why MIT has been so successful is that it has and continues to attract the best researchers and educators into its faculty, and to attract the most talented students. Another reason is that MIT has maintained its focus on STEM disciplines.


MIT traditionally had a robust free speech culture that supported vigorous, open debate and a campus on which a wide variety of viewpoints were tolerated. A free speech culture is essential to STEM, as nothing is more detrimental to science than orthodoxies that cannot be questioned. It is precisely this culture and the talent it attracted that enabled MIT to become the premier science and engineering university in the world.

Cancel Culture Encroaches

Over the past decade, however, MIT’s support for freedom of expression has come under attack by cancel culture. This change resulted in two visible cancellations by MIT in 2020 and 2021. Other indicators from surveys and reviews of MIT policies reveal that cancel culture has become pervasive on campus, affecting faculty, students and staff. The MIT administration has enabled this encroachment of cancel culture by establishing policies and institutions that are weaponized for speech suppression – official institution positions on social and political subjects that are outside of the Institutes purview, compelled speech policies and guidelines, and administrative discipline processes based on anonymous reporting. This move towards suppressing some voices and viewpoints threatens to erode MIT’s greatness and its ability to attract the best faculty and students.

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The Faculty Strikes Back

(At Least Some of Them, Anyway)

Not everyone at MIT is on board with suppressing viewpoints and individual expression. Led by principled and brave members of the STEM faculty, some groups at MIT are starting to fight back against the cancel culture on campus. MIT’s alumni, spearheaded by the MIT Free Speech Alliance, have joined in this countercultural movement. Supported by MFSA, an ad hoc faculty committee developed a strong Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom. That Statement was later adopted by a majority of the faculty. It was then endorsed by the President of MIT to apply to the entire community.

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Restoring Freedom of Expression is Just Beginning

The adoption of a Statement on Freedom of Expression was a positive first step. But MIT has just barely started to implement programs and institutional changes to codify and implement that Statement. To date, almost none of the recommendations made by the faculty ad hoc committee to reestablish support for freedom of expression have been acted on. The MIT Free Speech Alliance is undertaking its own initiatives to help improve support for free speech at MIT, and we plan to do more.

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MIT is a beacon of exceptional and innovative research and education in the natural sciences. MFSA is committed to keeping this magical place from being destroyed by the advocates and adherents of cancel culture.