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Harassment Code Is Embarrassment to MIT

The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to President Charles M. Vest and Associate Provost for Institute Life Samuel J. Keyser:

We of the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression have grave concerns about the comprehensive guide on harassment published recently at MIT. We don't doubt that this guide was well intended, and each of us in the BCFE deplores harassing behavior. Moreover, we do not believe that threats are protected speech nor do we believe that the right to impose speech upon another is without limit.

But the MIT harassment code is far too broad. Your definition of harassment includes "any conduct, verbal or physical, on or off campus . . . which creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational, work, or living environment." The term "intimidating, hostile or offensive environment" is so vague and subjective that it is nearly devoid of meaning and therefore your code protects no speech whatsoever. Your code further confuses the issue by describing "ambiguous behavior" that "may be offensive whether or not it is harassment." No reasonable person can know with certainty precisely what speech is proscribed.

Intellectual freedom, which one might presume essential at a world-renowned university, is meaningless without freedom of expression. Therefore we are astounded that MIT would consider "freedom from unreasonable and disruptive offense" equally essential and would ask the MIT community to think of free expression and harassment "in terms of interests rather than rights." We beg to differ, President Vest. Freedom of expression is a right. Moreover, it is an inalienable right which cannot be abridged, without due process of law, by any individual or institution -- not even the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

We are also appalled that Associate Provost for Institute Life Samuel J. Keyser was quoted in The Boston Globe as saying "What we're saying is everyone had the right to freedom of speech, but there are consequences to that right. We're just asking them to think about those consequences before they speak." According to the guide, those consequences include "termination of employment or student status." In other words, say what you like, but if we don't like it, your days are numbered. We have assumed that Keyser had been misquoted until he reaffirmed this alarming statement in a recent letter to the editor.

This guide is an embarrassment to MIT, but the mistake can be corrected. We look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.

Bill Reever

and Don Davies

Co-Chairs Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression