Identity of Speakers
Invited for academic lecture
Dorian Abbot is an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago
Incident Political Orientation:
- Did not involve Speech Codes
MIT invited geophysicist Dr. Dorian Abbot, an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, to give the John Carlson Lecture in Fall, 2021. The John Carlson Lecture is intended to “communicate exciting new results in climate science to the general public.” Some faculty members and graduate students at MIT spoke out against the invitation due to Dr. Abbot’s past comments on affirmative action and diversity programs. Dr. Abbot’s views hold that diversity programs in academia seek to increase the representation of some groups through discrimination against other members of other groups, violating the ethical and legal principles of equal treatment, compromising the university’s mission and undermining the public trust in universities and their graduates. Beyond those beliefs, Dr. Abbot’s detractors took issue with assertions he made in a Newsweek Op-Ed comparing diversity programs to actions undertaken by the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s.
On September 30, 2021, MIT rescinded their invitation, with the head of its Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences departing stating that “besides freedom of speech, we have the freedom to pick the speaker who best fits our needs. Words matter and have consequences.” The school extended an offer to Dr. Abbot to present his scientific work at MIT, but cited the fact that the Carlson Lecture is a “public-facing” as a reason why the initial invitation was rescinded.
Amongst the arguments against the actions taken by MIT, beyond speech issues, is the potential for good scientific work to be shunned due to the political leanings of the scientist. The incident has since become a cause célèbre for free-speech advocates, particularly to those who hold right-leaning political beliefs. In the aftermath of the rescinded invitation, the James Madison Program at Princeton University, a scholarly institute within the Department of Politics that is “dedicated to exploring enduring questions of American constitutional law and Western political thought,” extended an invitation to Dr. Abbot for him to speak on the same date and at the same time as the cancelled Carlson Lecture, which Dr. Abbot accepted.
In the aftermath of this incident, some of those who opposed the MIT invitation to Dr. Abbot were subjected to threats online. Dr. Abbot requested in a Tweet that no one attack the “activists who led the campaign against him.”