New harassment policy excessive
Professor of Philosophy Judith J. Thomson has suggested that the proposed policy on sexual harassment excessively curtails freedom of speech ["Report raises concern," Dec. 7]. She is right.
Under the proposed policy, "sexist remarks," as well as a number of other offenses, are punishable by penalties "up to and including termination of employment or student status," at the discretion of the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs or the Committee on Discipline.
These remarks need not be obscene nor directed at the offended individual. For charges to be brought, they need only be overheard and reported.
Which remarks are sexist? Chauvinists and feminists alike agree there are differences between the sexes. There are no pregnant men and relatively few female murderers.
Which views about these differences are sexist and which are not? The ODSA will decide. Those who express "politically correct" views will go unpunished. Those who express other ideas, even ideas accepted in the world outside academia, will have to beg for mercy to avoid expulsion. Consequently, the new rules will end any meaningful discussion of gender issues on campus.
But the situation grows worse. It may not even be necessary for the ODSA to decide that a remark is sexist for it to punish a student. Associate Dean for Student Affairs James R. Tewhey has confirmed to me that "a person is being harassed if that person believes she [or he] is being harassed."
So anyone at MIT may be punished if anyone else merely believes, or professes to believe, that a remark the individual made is sexist or that the individual otherwise committed harassment. Politically correct students will be able to punish dissenters.
Tewhey and others will no doubt promise to apply the rules intelligently. Perhaps they will. But should we have to trust them? What if they are replaced by others even less willing to listen? Such a vague and menacing definition makes us all vulnerable to politicized enforcement. Charges brought against an individual on grounds of speech alone would "unreasonably interfere" with the defendant's life, to the point that the charges would themselves constitute harassment under its existing definition.
The harassment policy is part of a broader assault on freedom of speech at colleges across the country. Everywhere, administrations are instituting speech codes to control the spread of dangerous ideas on campus.
The University of Connecticut has banned "inappropriate laughter." The University of Michigan, under Provost Charles M. Vest, adopted speech codes so severe that exceptions had to be made for classroom discussion. At a California State campus, a student was even expelled for questioning the "chilling effect" of its speech code!
Such restrictions prevent open discussion of some very complex and troublesome problems in our society, like sexism and racism. Anyone who values his or her freedom of speech should speak out now, before some bureaucratic kangaroo court gains the power to judge out every word.
Lars Bader '91->