In 1986, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set up an Ad Hoc Pornography Screening Committee composed of faculty, students and staff. The intention was not to abolish the showing of X-rated or unrated sexually explicit films in the dormitories or elsewhere on campus. Instead, MIT wanted a system of prior review to determine when and where such movies would be allowed.

Because MIT is an institution of higher learning, the policy had to include a definition of pornography rather than simply relying on the instinctual "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

For that definition, MIT went to a 1980 book, "Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography," in which such material is described as "explicit representations of sexual behavior that, in the words of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, have as a distinguishing characteristic 'the degrading and demeaning portrayal of the role and status of the human female {or male} . . . as a mere sexual object to be exploited and manipulated sexually."

Lest this definition be insufficiently clear, the screening committee added certain criteria. To get the committee's imprimatur, the film had to "reflect believable reality or normalcy in the relationships and sexuality displayed." Furthermore, "the sexually explicit content and the emotional content should not unfairly reflect the viewpoint and the sexual feelings of men and/or women." And "the film should generally promote a positive attitude toward sexuality."

There were no additional clarifications of such terms as "believable reality," "normalcy" or "a positive attitude toward sexuality."

Movies striking the committee as unbelievable or unfair to men's and women's sexual feelings could not be shown at certain times of the academic year or in certain places. Nor could they be displayed without giving six weeks' advance notice of the screening so that objectors on campus would have time to plan and advertise an alternative film.

Last February, Adam Dershowitz (class of '89) committed what his uncle, Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, has called an act of civil disobedience. Without going to the screening committee for prior approval, Dershowitz showed "Deep Throat" to an audience of 80, male and female, under conditions proscribed by the committee. (It was shown on registration day, and the committee had not wanted "incoming students, particularly freshmen," to get the wrong idea about MIT.)

James R. Tewhey, associate dean of the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs, thereupon filed a formal complaint against Dershowitz with the Committee on Discipline. A hearing was scheduled, and Dershowitz asked that the press be admitted since, he said, the First Amendment figures in this case. The request was denied. But the campus paper, The Tech, covered the overall story in considerable detail and noted editorially that "any screening restrictions would compromise freedom of speech."

At the hearing, Adam Dershowitz called his uncle as an expert witness. Alan Dershowitz testified that "any decent student would be opposed to this patently absurd and unconstitutional policy. The fact that there is a faddish desire to censor certain forms of freedom of speech," he said, hardly justifies the MIT policy on pornography.

The law professor went on to make a rather telling point. MIT is a private institution, but the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act prevents private as well as public colleges and universities from abridging the constitutional rights of students. Alan Dershowitz also cited a decision by a Cambridge Superior Court judge some years ago when, from outside the university, a district attorney moved against a Harvard student for showing "Deep Throat" on campus. The judge said the film was constitutionally protected. Prof. Dershowitz was the chief legal tactician in that case.

Last month, Adam Dershowitz received a letter from MIT's Committee on Discipline. The committee had found that "the Policy Statement on Sexually Explicit Films constitutes an excessive restraint on freedom of expression at MIT.

"This freedom is fundamental to the broader principle of academic freedom and cannot be unduly abridged by administrative action. The Policy is, therefore, inappropriate for MIT . . . by unanimous vote, the committee thereby dismisses the charges against you."

Andrew Fish, a columnist at The Tech, delivered a postlude: "A student who did not want to see "Deep Throat" was under no obligation to enter the screening room. I would prefer turning my eyes from material I deem offensive to having Big Brother at the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs make that decision for me."