Opinion open letter

Open letter on open campus access

An open MIT is imperative to a vibrant MIT

Dear President Reif, Chancellor Nobles, and Provost Barnhart,

We write as more than 2000 MIT students, alumni, faculty, staff, affiliates, community members, and neighbors who strongly disagree with the recent decision to maintain a closed campus at MIT going forward. While reasonable precautions were necessary during the pandemic before full vaccinations were available, closing MIT’s campus will diminish the openness which makes MIT the vibrant, collaborative, forward-thinking place that it is. This letter calls for a return to the century-old openness policy as it was before 2020.

As President Reif said in the 2016 preface to the MIT campus guide:

“Because openness is a central MIT value, our campus is open too. The vast majority of our buildings are open to the public and the campus has no visible perimeter; we are an aggressively ungated community that works around the clock and welcomes the world in.”

MIT students and community members have used this openness in many ways. It can be to collaborate or socialize at MIT with the broader community, share lectures with high school students eager to learn, and hold meetings or meet for coffee with visiting scholars, tech and life science entrepreneurs and other visitors to campus. We are all lifelong students, and the Infinite Corridor and other MIT spaces lose much of their value if impressionable students of all ages and curious minds from all backgrounds can no longer share space. Much of what makes MIT special is that we interact with the community rather than turning our back and closing itself off.

For alumni, we can no longer return to the hallowed halls where we learned to be the scientists, engineers, politicians, doctors, teachers, and innovators we’ve become and stay connected to the MIT community. Many of those of us who are graduates have naturally drifted away from campus to pursue jobs and careers with the skills and knowledge we gained in our time at MIT. But many of us feel the call back to the place we spent our young adulthood and return — to show our families, friends, business connections, and children the place where we got started. Making campus a place to which we can no longer return weakens our ability to be ambassadors to the future community of MIT and continue the legacy that has already been built.

In recent years, MIT has undertaken the Better World Campaign to strengthen its position as a leader in tackling humanity’s urgent challenges. We’ve also implemented diversity, equity and inclusion policies which seek to create a more welcoming campus, while at the same time erecting gates and obstacles to those who wish to join us. We cannot create a better, more inclusive world on a global scale while shutting it out locally. How many MIT startups were inspired, not by looking around campus, but by engaging those beyond campus to find important problems to solve? How many key research insights came about from chatting after a lecture with a member of the community?

An open MIT is imperative to a vibrant MIT, as it has been for more than a century. A limited set of open buildings do not keep the current campus from being closed radically more than at any time in its history. This major policy change to close off the campus was made with little community process or input. If this is a change MIT wishes to make, it should take place only after a full community process involving current students, alumni and community members. Rather than making these changes now, MIT's administration must take the time to interface with us and learn about our concerns, and what we will lose with a closed campus. We believe that we will find that the positives of an open campus dramatically outweigh the negatives, and ask that you rescind this policy and retain a fully open MIT until this process can take place.

Thank you,

1255 MIT alumni
447 current MIT undergraduates
265 current MIT graduate students
155 current faculty and staff
225 other affiliates and community members


If you wish to sign onto this letter, you can do so at tinyurl.com/keepmitopen.