The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 68.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Preserve campus speech

Whenever free speech at MIT comes up, Associate Provost Samuel J. Keyser seems forced to publicly demonstrate his lack of understanding of the issue ["Bill could affect harassment policy," March 15]. This time the issue is the MIT harassment policy, and the bill in Congress that will eliminate it.

He is right that the legal aspects are "the easy part of it," but he still gets it wrong. Free speech is such an important issue that it was explicitly put in the Constitution, while there is nothing in it to protect people "from being offended."

This issue is so clear that even the conservative congressman from Illinois, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, has proposed a law to outlaw such harassment policies as the MIT policy that Keyser champions.

To qualify as harassment, under the MIT policy, the conduct merely has to "create an intimidating or . . . offensive . . . environment." I hope that this letter, explaining Keyser's lack of understanding and supporting the bill, offends him, and makes him think.

Maybe he will bring harassment charges against me. The policy does not even require intent. Someone can be harassed without the intent or knowledge of the "harasser."

A while ago, MIT Pro-Life tried to bring harassment charges against some abortion rights advocates. Since their support for abortion rights clearly offended the Pro-Lifers, by this absurd policy this political discussion did constitute harassment. In fact, I am deeply offended by the harassment policy; perhaps I can bring charges against Keyser. . . .

That Keyser does not understand free speech is demonstrated by his comment that we should focus on its consequences. He is correct that speech can be hurtful or dangerous. It can cause people to think, to act, or to overthrow governments. That is why it must be protected.

Bland or politically neutral speech needs no protection. The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect unpopular, offensive or "bad" speech, and to allow arguments and discourse. Free speech with the exclusion of some subjects on a disallowed list is not free.

While we all must take responsibility for our actions, on a university campus we should not have to worry about whether we will be punished for everything we say.

It is sad that MIT has been a leader in this new campus censorship that is sweeping the nation. Hopefully this trend towards campus speech policies will be reversed, if necessary by passage of the Hyde bill, and even legal action. Then universities will again represent places not only for the exchange "acceptable" ideas but for the exchange of all ideas.

Adam Dershowitz G->