Opinion letter to the editor

Alumnus responds to MIT India Conference controversy

To the editors,

As an engaged alumnus, and a well-wisher of the Institute, I am writing this short letter to express my appreciation for MIT’s carefully weighed decision to support the students’ majority vote to allow Swamy to speak in the recently concluded MIT India Conference.

Some of Swamy’s public policy postures lately may be arguably seen as narrow and sometimes sharp in rhetoric. But Swamy is a man for many seasons and tastes — a brilliant economist who wrote a seminal paper with Paul Samuelson in 1974; a man who opposed an internal emergency imposed by the then-Indian government in 1975: then he championed for the freedom of all the citizens. Lately, a champion against corruption and at substantial personal cost. Here is what The New York Times had to report.

The petition that was circulated to disinvite Swamy is not without factual basis. I know several faculty petitioners and others. They are distinguished intellectuals.

But the question for all of us is simply this: should the Institute have permitted Swamy’s presentation based on the general respect for First Amendments rights or is Swamy too extreme?

I remember MIT dealing with this issue in the 1980s and 1990s under Presidents Paul Gray and Chuck Vest. As then, the current MIT leadership has balanced all the elements carefully. As Chancellor Barnhart and Provost Schmidt wrote in a letter to the editor, “For MIT as a university, guarding freedom of expression is fundamental to our mission of advancing knowledge and educating students. We are and must be committed to ensuring that different points of view — even those we reject — can be heard and debated in a respectful and safe way.”

These are challenging and difficult issues but MIT’s decision — in the ultimate analysis — will serve us all well. MIT will and should remain an inclusive place. MIT’s leadership has clearly reaffirmed this. “As a global institution that depends on bringing together talented people from around the world, we are and must be profoundly committed to making sure we create a community where people of every background — in terms of nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation and more — can feel welcome and supported,” Barnhart and Schmidt’s letter said.

MIT is a wonderful place, and I wish the Institute much continued success.

Gurumurthy Kalyanaram PhD 89