Ground rules for our community

January 31, 2024
Cynthia Barnhart, Provost | Melissa Nobles, Chancellor |

Dear members of the MIT community,

As IAP draws to a close and our community prepares to come back together, we write to highlight the values, rules, and guidelines that make it possible for all of us to share the campus successfully while pursuing MIT’s vital mission.

In general, our community functions very well, with a high degree of both openness and mutual respect. But as Vice Chancellor and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson stressed in a letter to students today, in the current moment, it’s important that all of us are familiar with and respect the ground rules for student conduct that enable our community to work effectively, while allowing each of us the freedom to express our views.

  • We begin with MIT's guidelines regarding events, vigils, protests, and demonstrations. In response to requests that they be clearer, we have recently revised them. Student group leaders should review the clarified guidelines now.
  • As always, students planning any vigil, protest, or demonstration of any size must register it (PDF), reserve space, and meet with Division of Student Life (DSL) staff at least three business days in advance to ensure that the event complies with Institute policies.

    MIT has more than 500 student organizations. Almost without exception, their leaders have no difficulty handling this basic responsibility, as clearly laid out in the MIT Student Organization Handbook (PDF). To maintain the safety and orderly operation of the campus, groups that fail in this regard risk losing their recognition and funding as official student organizations.
  • Our guidelines specify a limited number of preferred locations for vigils, protests, and demonstrations, subject in each case to our longstanding event review process. With proper advance registration and consultation with staff, other common spaces on campus may sometimes be approved for such events.

    Places where these activities are prohibited include faculty or administrative offices, classrooms, libraries, study rooms, or similar locations, such as student residences, that would disrupt Institute activities, including the education of our students. We ask instructors to make themselves familiar with our guidelines for responding in case of classroom disruption, which Faculty Chair Mary Fuller also shared in a letter last week.
  • As spelled out in our policies, MIT does not permit discriminationharassment, or threats. We should not have to say this, but personal harassment of any kind is unacceptable. This includes harassment of students in our residence halls, harassment of MIT staff in their offices, and harassment of community members online. Such behavior does not constitute protected speech. The Committee on Discipline (COD) is responsible for resolving any formal complaint of alleged harassment or other policy violation by a student.
  • It is important for the community to know that the administration reserves the right to take any action it deems necessary or appropriate to protect the intellectual integrity, health, safety, wellbeing, or educational or working experience of the campus community. For students, this can include a range of interim measures to address a problem immediately, while the COD takes time to formally review a complaint. Common examples of interim measures include temporary removal of a student from MIT housing or relocation to another room or residence hall; restriction on the activities of a student organization or residence hall; no-contact orders; restriction on a student's access to certain campus locations; or changes to academic or work schedules.

    Interim measures can remain in effect until the administration is satisfied that the issue at hand has been satisfactorily resolved. Failing to adhere to such a measure can constitute an aggravating circumstance in the COD’s disciplinary deliberations.

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These practical ground rules – and our community’s expectation of mutual respect and decency – do not constitute an infringement on anyone’s right to express their views. Indeed, the MIT Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom (PDF) and our MIT Values articulate the deep value we place on freedom of expression; a diversity of views is the lifeblood of a university, and it is essential to fulfilling our mission.

Yet we also value a community in which we can all be free to live our lives, learn, study, and do our work, on the campus we all share. Our community ground rules amount to reasonable guidelines around the “time, place, and manner” of speech.

We all need to respect them, so we can all do the work we came here for.


Cynthia Barnhart

Melissa Nobles