Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Photo: DrKenneth via Wikimedia Commons


One of the most disturbing developments of recent years is the gradual yet radical transformation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from one of the most robust academic centers of free speech and free thought in the world, to just another politically correct wannabe gulag.

This past September, Brian L. Spatocco, a doctoral candidate in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, wrote an op-ed in The Tech, the independent student newspaper, criticizing MIT’s new hazing policy. As is now common on college campuses, where administrators are wont to deny that the school has a “speech code” (which sounds like censorship, after all), MIT has buried speech restrictions in, among other places, its “hazing” policy.

“Hazing,” which Massachusetts criminal law defines as “any conduct or method of initiation … which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person,” is, as of this academic year, defined by MIT far more broadly:

“Any action or activity that causes or intends to cause physical or mental discomfort or distress, that may demean, degrade, or disgrace any person, regardless of location, intent, or consent of participants, for the purpose of initiation, admission into, affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in a group, organization, or living community.”

So, you’re guilty of hazing at MIT if you inflict “mental discomfort” on a fellow student, or “demean” that person, even if you do not have the “intent” to do so. Under this standard, you’d be hard pressed to find someone on MIT’s campus who wasn’t “hazing” other students. This, of course, puts at risk all students who engage in the annual fraternity membership ritual. When all are guilty, the student life authorities have a roving commission to pick out any student or students as the subject of discipline.

As Spatocco concludes in his op-ed, such “loose language” of the speech code doesn’t fool anybody, but it could inhibit members of the MIT community from challenging one another. “I want and need the community to challenge me,” he writes. “This is how I learn.”

Well, this is how those bright MIT students used to learn. Nothing came of Spatocco’s searing op-ed in The Tech; the broad and censorious hazing policy remains in effect today. Sadly, the modern therapeutic university model has now come even to MIT, and for that, we present a 2015 Muzzle Award. We’ll watch with care to see if mandated feel-good speech turns out to be compatible with doing cutting-edge science.