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About the Committee

At the direction of President Reif, Provost Martin A. Schmidt, Chancellor Melissa Nobles and Chair of the Faculty Lily L. Tsai are launching the Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression, with the following charge:

MIT is a community of people from a remarkable range of backgrounds united in a mission of research, education and innovation for the betterment of humankind. To advance that mission, we rely on a longstanding commitment to open inquiry and the free exchange of ideas, and we strive to be a community grounded in an expectation of mutual respect, where talented people of every background can feel welcome and thrive.

Sometimes, however, members of our community do not agree on how these principles should be balanced or interpreted. The most recent example is the ongoing debate that followed a decision by MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) regarding an invited speaker for a public outreach event known as the Carlson Lecture. The subsequent controversy has brought to the surface a wide range of views within our community.

In response, we are charging the Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression to help chart a constructive path forward. 

We charge the working group to:

  • Review MIT’s current statement on the free and open exchange of ideas and the equivalent section on free expression and responsibility in our Mind and Handbook for students
  • Consider related scholarship, cases, and statements on these and related issues, particularly in the context of institutions of higher education. Examples include the Chicago Principles, a “Letter on Justice and Open Debate” published in 2020 by a group of prominent writers in the magazine Harper’s, and the PEN America Campus Free Speech Guide
  • Review and reflect on the extensive input already gathered from faculty, alumni, staff, students and Corporation members through incoming email, reports from student leaders, and organized forums for faculty, staff and alumni
  • Coordinate and align its work with the Values Statement Committee and draw on relevant input the committee has received from the community over the past year.
  • Address the following questions:
  1. Does MIT need to revise or update its statements regarding academic freedom, freedom of expression, and/or pluralism?
  2. How should we define these and other related fundamental principles? 
  3. How can we give such statements prominence in our policies and the life of the Institute?
  4. What are processes for negotiating disagreements and making decisions on these and related issues so that we can accept the outcome even when we disagree with the decision?
  • Based on this research and review, recommend any changes needed to existing Institute statements or guidance
  • Suggest principles and processes for decision making, particularly with respect to how and when issues should be brought to or decided by the central administration, and illustrate how these principles and processes might provide practical guidance in a range of possible scenarios

We ask that the working group present its preliminary findings to us by the end of the 2022 spring semester.