Free Speech, Codes Collide

Students, Officials Struggle With Harassment Guidelines

Shortly after MIT senior Nicholas L. Cassimatis received a copy of his college's new anti-harassment guide, he burned it in a dormitory courtyard.

Cassimatis was one of about 20 students who destroyed their booklets in a heated protest against what they call an infringment on their right to free speech.

At several universities around the country--including Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania--free speech has surfaced this fall as a critical campus concern. University administrations are attempting to strike a balance between the rights of individuals to express themselves freely and a civil campus environment.

Cassimatis said some of the protesters at MIT condemned the lack of attention the guide pays to the rights of the accused, while others--such as himself--objected to the ease with which a student can be punished for harassment under the regulations.

"You can be punished for hurting someone's feelings," said Cassimatis.


Entitled, "Dealing with Harassment at MIT," the guide was distributed to students on November 1.

The MIT guide defines harassment as any conduct--verbal or physical--that "unreasonably" interferes with the victim's performance at MIT. Harassment is also defined as behavior that creates an "intimidating, hostile or offensive" environment.

Associate Provost Samuel J. Keyser, who prepared the guide, said it does not create new policy. Rather, the booklet codifies a system that is already in place.

Keyser said any university receiving federal funds is legally bound to have a policy against harassment and procedures for dealing with harassment.

He added that MIT's definition of harassment is similar to--and even stricter than--the one provided by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

At Harvard, Allen H. Erbsen '94 and Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 formed a new Advisory Committee on Free Expression this fall, which met for the first time Tuesday night.

"Harvard does not have an environment as supportive of freedom of expression as it could be," Erbsen said, explaining why he started the committee.

For example, he said, if a student organization wants to invite a controversial speaker to the campus, the University might require the group to bear the financial burden of paying for a police officer at the event.

One main purpose of the committee is to provide a forum for discussing issues of free speech so that when problems arise, administrators and students will be able to deal with them effectively, Erbsen said.

And at Penn this fall, interim President Claire Fagin is deciding whether to a suspend part of the school's racial harassment code.