Freedom of Expression Needs to Thrive at MITThe Tech received this letter addressed to Salman Rushdie.
The members of the Student Association for Freedom of Expression would like to express our warm welcome to you, our newest, albeit honorary, member of the MIT community. More than anyone on campus, you know of the dangers of censorship. By having been forced to stake your life on what you believe, you have become a symbol of the fight for freedom of expression around the globe. In honoring you, MIT has expressed at least a desire to reward those who stand up in the face of censorship.
Sadly, those rewards are not afforded to the other members of this Institution. According to a new harassment policy, which each of your fellow members in the MIT community must now follow, the expression of offensive ideas is now discouraged, and may even be actionable under MIT's definition of harassment. The newly published guide tells us to avoid putting the right to free expression and the desire to not be offended to a balancing test. It advises that "people who learn they have offended others by their manner of expression should consider immediately stopping the offense and apologizing." The administration's incapacity to uniformly interpret advice from warning, or discouragement from punishment has been well documented, most recently in the Nov. 30 issue of The Tech. Coupled with such problems the dangers such a broad policy presents are too numerous to list here. We urge you to read the harassment guide for yourself and judge its attempt to deal with freedom of expression (particularly outlined on page 18).
Had you been forced to publish in such an atmosphere, one can only wonder if MIT would have encouraged you to remove the possibly offensive material from The Satanic Verses. Even The Boston Globe (Nov. 30) contained a letter from a Muslim graduate student of MIT who was offended by what he called "Combat Zone colloquialisms" and of "injuring the deepest love of others." The policy makes actionable comments both "on or off campus." According to their own publication, MIT would be forced to resolve their objections, should these detractors wish to make a claim of harassment against you.
It is not our mission to either condone or condemn your opinions or those of your detractors. It is only our fear that controversial opinions such as yours, will now be suppressed by the (often very real) objections of other campus members. As you are aware, many of the most provocative and noteworthy ideas are deeply offensive to a great many people. Attempting to remove these offenses cannot avoid being hostile to intellectual freedom.
Having lived a good portion of your life waging a personal battle for free expression, you are closer to the front than most. You know what is at stake, and how precarious such freedoms are. As we offer our support for your struggle, we also ask for your solidarity with our own. Help us in urging MIT to renew its defense of freedom of expression. A public statement from one whom the MIT establishment has so honored would go a long way towards convincing them of their hypocrisy. Help us make MIT a place where free expression thrives, not a place that selectively encourages some forms of expression while discouraging others.
Vernon Imrich G
and 5 others
Student Association for Freedom of Expression