Dorian Abbot, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago (UC), had been invited by MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences to give its prestigious Carlson Lecture on Oct. 21. He was to talk about the climate on exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars other than the sun of our solar system.
On Oct. 2, however, Abbot wrote on Twitter that MIT has cancelled his lecture, a move he described as a “bad decision under pressure.”
Abbot became the target of the progressives last year after he expressed doubts about certain aspects of the “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)” policies at the UC. In August, the UC campus left renewed its effort to “cancel” Abbot, after he co-authored an opinion piece in Newsweek discussing the flaws of race-centric DEI hiring.
“American universities are diverse not because of DEI, but because they have been extremely competitive at attracting talent from all over the world,” he says in the article, noting that German universities never fully recovered from the Nazi years, during which their employment policies focused on race instead of merit. “We should view this as a warning of the consequences of viewing group membership as more important than merit, and correct our course before it is too late.”
In a petition sent to the UC Department of the Geophysical Sciences, activists declared that Abbot’s opinions “threaten the safety and belonging of all underrepresented groups” and were “an aggressive act,” and demanded, among other things, his immediate removal from his teaching position. In response, UC administrators made it clear that they won’t punish a faculty member for simply expressing his views on the university’s policies.
“Faculty are free to agree or disagree with any policy or approach of the University, its departments, schools or divisions without being subject to discipline, reprimand or other form of punishment,” UC President Robert Zimmer said in a letter to campus community.
Several academics have voice their support for Abbot, including Robert George, a Princeton University professor and vocal opponent of cancel culture. In a Twitter thread documenting the incident, George urged academia to condemn the “politicization of science.”
“It’s not just the scientists who need to speak up against this outrage against academic freedom and integrity,” he wrote. “It is all of us in academia–scholars in every field, and scholars from across the ideological spectrum. Please, don’t be silent.”
George was joined by Jeffrey Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School. Filer argued that MIT should reinstate Abbot as the Carlson lecturer and apologize for their treatment of him.
“By capitulating to a mindless Twitter mob as it did in this sad case, MIT has severely diminished its institutional reputation. Reversal of the absurd award cancelation and high level and sincere apologies are required,” he wrote on Twitter.
MIT didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.