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Department Takes Steps after Incident

Department Takes Steps After Incident

The Tech received a copy of the this letter addressed to members of the faculty of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

You may have read in The Tech["Pornography Display in 6.001 Provokes Debate on Decency," Feb 27] about the display of indecent material in the 6.001 lecture on Thursday, Feb. 26. This letter will bring you up to date about this incident and actions taken by the 6.001 staff and the department.

Social issues are often used in 6.001 to motivate technical discussions. On Thursday the topic was data structures, and the PICS project was used for motivation. PICS will let Internet users prevent access to sites they judge not to be suitable. Pornographic sites are among those which many people may wish to avoid, or have their children avoid. To introduce this discussion and illustrate the need for a system like PICS, the 6.001 staff displayed the home page of one easily accessed site.

This page included two images of nude or semi-nude women. The page was displayed from about 10:00 until a few minutes into the lecture. Many students found this indecent display to be offensive and inappropriate for 6.001. On Friday, I personally visited all fifteen 6.001 recitation sections and apologized to those who were offended, on behalf of the department. Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Harold Abelson PhD '73 also visited each section and explained the pedagogic intent of the display, and reassured students that they were right if they had been offended.

At March 4 lecture there was another apology for the benefit of those who missed recitation on Friday. It is not acceptable for EECS subjects to use instructional material that needlessly offends.

Indecent material, sexually explicit or other pornographic material, or any material that denigrates or devalues people, is seldom if ever appropriate in a classroom setting. All MIT students are welcome to take EECS subjects. Use of such material would undermine this principle of inclusion by making some students feel unwelcome.

The Department does not adhere to any specific definition of what may be included in instructional material. Instead, we rely on the good taste and judgment of the teaching staff. Only rarely does this practice lead to any problems. The responsibility to exercise good judgment will remain with you, the faculty. If at any time you are unsure about something you plan to present, you are encouraged to show it first to someone else whose judgment you trust.

Paul L. Penfield, Jr. ScD '60

Head of Electrical Engineering