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Letters to the Editor

The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to Daniel Thumin '94.

I have met with the Academic Computing Council on this issue ["Busy Clusters Make Dorm Network Necessary," March 5], and I have asked that they work with Information Systems to work up a specific proposal giving timing and costs (both up front, non-recurring and continuing expenses). Additionally, there is a need to consider what the consequences will be on the needs relating to public clusters and dial up services. Professor Steven Lerman chairs the Academic Computing Council and is working to advance the proposal to me for further consideration.

Mark S. Wrighton

Provost

Speech Codes Do Not Prevent Harassment

I believe that, as a private institution, MIT has the legal right to establish speech codes; but I also believe that, as an institution of thought and ideas, MIT should not exercise this right. Thus, I support the free-speech initiative.

Unfortunately, MIT already has a speech code masquerading as an anti-harassment policy. The administration has enacted a vague policy of punishment based on the content of speech, under which speech which might be viewed as perfectly normal outside MIT could result in expulsion from within. Those responsible for enforcing the policy have promised to apply the rules intelligently. Perhaps they will. But should we have to trust them? What if they are replaced by others less willing to listen? The slippery slope of defining "offensive" language and the potential for enormous abuse afforded by this sweeping policy are too dangerous; the free-speech initiative could serve to check these dangers.

In response to these objections, it will be said that there is a serious problem of harassment and we have to do something. Yes, we do have to do something -- we have to do the right thing. The right thing means becoming serious about stopping sexual assault -- from rape to unwanted touching to "innocent" hugs. The right thing means becoming serious about stopping quid pro quo harassment. Speech codes do neither of these things. Perhaps if we pass the free-speech initiative, the MIT community will stop wasting time tuning its speech codes and will start looking for real solutions to the problem.

Raymie Stata G

Students Need More Facts To Make Informed Decisions

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right in this country, guaranteed to every citizen. This basic freedom is not at argument. What I am concerned about is the current non-binding referendum that is being put before the undergraduate student body. I cannot stop it, nor should I be able to, but I can explain why it is so poorly constructed, and that it obviously does have an agenda.

Let us first examine the three questions on the referendum. They are "Should MIT guarantee its students the same freedom of speech that students have at public universities?"; "Should students have the freedom to express unpopular or controversial views?"; and "Should the MIT harassment policy. which currently restricts constitutionally protected speech, be revised to provide protection for freedom of speech?"

My problems with the first two are in construction of the questions. They have been worded in a way that asks for only one answer: "yes." It is similar to asking "Do you think education is a good thing?" or "Is murder a bad thing?" The questions are too simple and offer the issues too starkly. This might be how the questioners see the issues, but they should allow for other opinions.

The third question is troublesome on many different levels. First, it states the opinion of the questioners a fact. It is true that policies similar to the MIT harassment policy have been struck down by State Supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court But these are recent decisions. Justices, judges, and lawyers are still determining these issues. I think these people know much more about constitutional law than the framers of those questions. If they haven't settled the issue, I think it shows poor judgment to state your opinion as fact in the question. It is not certain that the MIT harassment policy is unconstitutional in whole or in part.

The third question gives no context of what costs are involved. The issue is reminiscent of the dining services survey. The Office of Housing and Food Services asked: "Do you want the dining hall in your dormitory left open?" and the dormitory residents overwhelming responded "Yes." The problem was that the question implied no cost, and when the students found out about the costs associated with keeping the dining halls open, they were understandably upset. So let us not force students to make uninformed decisions. What are the costs to changing the harassment policy? How much will harassment increase, or go unpunished, if we change the policy? These are not easy questions to answer, but there should have been some attempt.

The harassment policy, as it currently stands is not on the referendum or presented at the polls, nor are the changes that Lars Bader G, the author of the referendum, would like to see made. We keep hearing that similar policies at the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin were struck down. Why can't we see these policies? This would allow our student body to compare the policies and the reasons behind changing them.

If Lars Bader and David Martin G ["UA Misunderstands Values of Free Speech", March 5] really believe in Justice Holmes's idea of a marketplace of ideas they will be happy that I have expressed my viewpoint. I must admit, I doubt that this is the case. I doubt this is the case, for it seems that they are more interested in twisting my words and in insulting the Undergraduate Association. Yes, I believe the questions are "slanted" as I have already mentioned, but I have never implied that I "consider the idea of personal freedom slanted." It has been insinuated that the UA doesn't want to fix the MIT harassment policy until it causes "irreparable harm." This is not the case. Our disagreement is how the referendum is presented, not the ideas behind it. What scare me is that the answers to these slanted questions might be used as part of an argument to change the harassment policy. I feel there is no validity to this referendum because of the wording of the questions. This harassment policy might need to be changed, and we might need a survey of undergraduates to find a way to fix it but sadly, this referendum won't be able to help us on this issue.

Since this is an issue of freedom of expression, we should remember that all of us are entitled to our point of view. But it is the duty of each individual to present the facts and speak the truth. It is our obligation to present all relevant information, not just that which is convenient.

David J. Kessler '94

UA Vice President