Free speech is dying at MIT, survey shows

Why this matters even for those without a personal stake in this particular university.

The Ivy League isn’t looking so hot these days. First, reporting revealed runaway “grade inflation” at Harvard. Now, a new survey just exposed that free speech is on life support at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aka MIT.

The issue has risen to the forefront of MIT’s campus culture after the university’s controversial decision, made about a year and a half ago, to “disinvite” a speaker for his opposition to diversity initiatives. In the wake of this free speech scandal, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) surveyed 195 MIT faculty—and the results are jarring.

A whopping 40% of surveyed faculty said they are more likely to self-censor now than they were just pre-2020. Meanwhile, 41% say it is unclear whether or not the university will protect free speech.

“MIT faculty want to explore uncharted—even forbidden—territory,” FIRE Director of Faculty Outreach Komi Frey said. “To do so, they need the administration to explicitly, unequivocally defend their academic freedom even when small yet vocal groups demand censorship. Otherwise, MIT students will learn illiberalism when they could have learned innovation.”

FIRE also surveyed MIT students, and found that free speech is very much not en vogue among the student body.

A shocking 77% of students surveyed said it’s acceptable to engage in a “heckler’s veto,” where disruptive protesters prevent a controversial speaker from speaking. Meanwhile, 52% think it’s sometimes acceptable to prevent students from attending a speech.

Students also report feeling stifled and silenced. Almost 70% say they would feel uncomfortable publicly disagreeing with a professor on a controversial issue. What’s more, 48% are uncomfortable “expressing [their] views on a controversial political topic to other students during a discussion in a common campus space, such as a quad, dining hall, or lounge.”

The inescapable takeaway is that free speech is in real jeopardy at MIT. But why does this matter to those without a personal stake in this particular university?

Well, because college students don’t stay students forever. At an elite university like MIT, graduates go on to occupy top positions in business, education, media, politics, and more. They take their illiberal and censorious attitudes with them, too, bad news for the rest of us whose lives will ultimately be impacted by these decision makers.

If we want to preserve America’s culture of free speech, we must start by reclaiming the universities. It all flows downhill from there.

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Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and co-founder of Based Politics. His work has been cited by top lawmakers such as Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Pat Toomey, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, Congressman Thomas Massie, and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as well as by prominent media personalities such as Jordan Peterson, Sean Hannity, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin. Brad has also testified before the US Senate, appeared on Fox News and Fox Business, and written for publications such as USA Today, National Review, Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. He hosts the Breaking Boundaries podcast and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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