MIT Encampment Ends: AFSA Offers Kornbluth Measured Praise

(May 8, 2024) — Alumni Free Speech Alliance President Chuck Davis today offered measured praise for MIT President’s Sally Kornbluth’s decision to dismantle a “protest encampment” on campus and take disciplinary action against student rulebreakers.

Davis noted that MIT had held off “as long as” it could before taking action. AFSA encourages open as respectful debate, but notes that reasonable Time, Place and Manner restrictions are necessary to protect the rights of others, and disruptive conduct is not protected speech.

Davis suggested that MIT (and all universities) implement ongoing education, starting with incoming Freshmen, on what free speech is, and is not. The Stanford President’s recent letter to incoming Freshmen is a good starting point. This training should include statements that disrupting or blocking classrooms, labs, lobbies and other spaces is not protected speech, these activities are prohibited and will result in discipline.

AFSA also believes that it is important for universities to develop “a track record of even-handed and consistent enforcement” of these Time, Place and Manner restrictions.  “This clear, and consistent approach seems the path to minimizing future disruptions,” Davis told Kornbluth.

AFSA notes that at many universities, it appears that initial violations were permitted, perhaps out of a misguided desire to avoid “escalation.” In hindsight, this seems to have encouraged repeat violations, and should not be repeated. AFSA’s view is that legal protests, within existing and appropriate Time, Place and Manner restrictions, need to be protected.  However, when reasonable restrictions are violated, this deprives other students of their rights.  In these cases, it is the university’s obligation to promptly intervene as needed to stop the violation.