Proposed free expression statement for MIT

September 1, 2022
Cynthia Barnhart, Provost | Melissa Nobles, Chancellor | Lily L. Tsai, Chair of the Faculty, 2021–2023 |

Dear colleagues,

Last fall, debate around the handling of the Carlson Lecture spurred our community to focus on important questions about freedom of expression and academic freedom. As part of that process, President Reif asked the provost, chancellor, and chair of the faculty to assemble a special working group to explore these questions.

The Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression

The members of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression pursued their charge through extensive research, outreach, reflection and debate. This included several forums last fall; substantial feedback received by the MIT Values Statement Committee; direct community input via email; and outreach to seek the views of students, staff, postdocs, alumni and MIT Corporation members.

We are tremendously grateful to the working group – and to its co-chairs, Institute Professor Penny Chisholm and Professor Phil Clay PhD ’75 – for taking up this challenge with such seriousness and care.

A proposed MIT Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom

Today, we share the statement of principle that the working group developed on freedom of expression and academic freedom – and we invite you to engage in deliberation and discussion about this statement.

As the working group’s report explains, its members sought to create a statement of principle to be endorsed by the faculty and that would become a lasting touchstone for our community. To allow for focused discussion about the statement, we will host two online forums for faculty: one on Thursday, September 8th from 3:30–5 p.m., and a second on Thursday, September 22nd from 8:30–10 a.m. The working group co-chairs will be present. As with the forums last fall, these sessions will consist mostly of faculty-to-faculty conversation in small, randomly assigned breakout groups.

If you can’t attend either of the forums, please share your thoughts with the faculty officers as soon as possible at A separate letter this afternoon will invite the rest of the campus community to provide comments by email.

As President Reif wrote in January, “Because faculty have direct and enduring responsibility for stewarding MIT’s core academic values, principles and practices, including academic freedom,” faculty members have taken the lead on this process thus far. These responsibilities constitute the foundation of what we do, and we urge the whole faculty to attend to them at this important juncture.

Freedom of expression in an inclusive community

Earlier today, the entire campus community also received the MIT Strategic Action Plan for Belonging, Achievement, and Composition, a document that outlines and coordinates plans across the Institute on subjects often referred to with the shorthand expression “DEI.”

The strategic action plan and the report on free expression followed their own distinct paths to this moment. We have a strong conviction that these efforts can thrive in concert with each other, and that both are essential to a thriving future for MIT.


Cynthia Barnhart, Provost

Melissa Nobles, Chancellor

Lily L. Tsai, Chair of the Faculty