Abbot Cancellation Timeline
The Abbot Cancellation – What Actually Happened?
The Chronological Timeline of Events
This is a complete chronology of the salient events before and after the cancelation of Prof. Abbot's appearance at the Carlson Lecture. The chronology is compiled from publicly available information and from various participants and witnesses of events within MIT. The Abbot Cancellation did result in the formation of the faculty Ad Hoc Committee on Free Expression, but the chronology of events involved in the development of MIT's Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Expression is discussed in that section of this website.
Dr. Kerry Emanuel and Dr. Daniel Rothman found the Lorenz Center, an advanced climate research center devoted to fundamental inquiry at MIT. Although an independently funded multi-disciplinary research center, the Lorenz Center is organized under the MIT School of Science. The Lorenz Center was later moved under the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) for administrative purposes. The Lorenz Center initiates the annual Carlson Lecture to communicate exciting new results in climate science to the general public. The Carlson Lecture is funded by a gift from John H. Carlson ’83 to the Lorenz Center.
Dr. Dorian Abbot makes a presentation to the EAPS department.
Dr. Dorian Abbot is invited to present the 10th Carlson Lecture in the fall of 2020. The subject of his lecture was decided at a later date to be on Climate and the Potential for Life on Other Planets.
The Carlson Lecture is cancelled for 2020 due to pandemic concerns, and is rescheduled for October 21, 2021.
An attempt is made by students and fellow faculty to denounce or cancel Dr. Dorian Abbot at the Geophysics Department at the University of Chicago in reaction to views he is expressing against DEI. The attempt is unsuccessful when President Zimmer of the University of Chicago reaffirms the university’s Chicago Principles support for free speech.
A group of EAPS graduate students complain to the EAPS department head, Prof. van der Hilst, about a toxic work environment in several EAPS labs. Prof. van der Hilst takes no action.
Dr. Dorian Abbot and Dr. Ivan Marinovic publish an editorial in Newsweek arguing against using DEI for university hiring and promotion, but rather for using an alternative framework based on Merit, Fairness and Equality (MFE).
Caroline Morley, assistant professor at U. Texas Austin tweets a general purpose call for replacement of Prof. Abbot at speaking engagements in the geophysics community (but not specifically calling for MIT to cancel him).
Awareness of and Twitter agreement with the Morley tweet begins to build. The Abbot opponents become aware that he is scheduled to deliver the Carlson Lecture in about a month.
A student (claiming to represent a group of students) sends an email to Prof. Rothman and Prof. Emanuel asking them to rescind the invitation to Dorian Abbot. The email is sent to Profs. Rothman and Emanuel because they are in charge of the Lorenz Center and the Carlson Lecture, and they are responsible for selecting the annual Carlson Lecture speaker.
A twitter mob that includes many outsiders, but also EAPS students, postdocs, and recent alumni, publicly demand that MIT cancel Prof. Abbot’s appearance at the Carlson Lecture.
EAPS department head Prof. van der Hilst calls a meeting at noon for all EAPS faculty to discuss the Carlson Lecture situation. At that meeting differing opinions on what to do are voiced. Both Prof. Rothman and Prof. Emanuel voice strong opposition to canceling the lecture.
Prof. van der Hilst holds listening sessions with groups of students, staff and some faculty. He also consults with the MIT administration, including the Institute Community and Equity Office, other DEI administrators and the MIT Provost, Marty Schmidt.
A cancellation plan is developed, including offering a substitute lecture to Dr. Abbot and a narrative to justify the cancellation for non-ideological reasons. Prof. van der Hilst agrees to take full, independent responsibility for the cancellation in return for full support by the Provost.
Prof. van der Hilst telephones Dr. Abbot to inform him that the Lecture is being canceled. A substitute internal lecture to EAPS in the spring of 2022 is offered as a substitute, and Dr. Abbot accepts.
Newsweek publishes an article about the cancellation of Dr. Abbot.
The Academic Freedom Alliance sends a letter
to Dr. van der Hilst protesting the cancellation of Dr. Abbot.
The New York Post publishes an article with a negative view about the cancellation of Dr. Abbot. Dr. Abbot publishes an article on Bari Weiss’s Substack The Free Press decrying his cancellation by MIT. Inside Higher Ed publishes an article on the cancellation of Dr. Abbot.
Prof. Rothman and Prof. Emanuel prepare a statement voicing disagreement with the cancellation of the Carlson Lecture, but refrain from publication to restore departmental collegiality. A copy of the statement is sent to Prof. van der Hilst but it is otherwise unpublished.
The MIT Provost, Marty Schmidt, sends an internal letter to the faculty explaining the cancellation of the Carlson Lecture, arguing that it really wasn’t a cancellation and providing the gaslighting* narrative to the MIT community over the incident. He also attributes the cancellation of the Carlson Lecture solely to Prof. van der Hilst, describing him as a trusted colleague and thoughtful leader, and supporting Prof. van der Hilst’s decision. The letter also condemns the online targeting and hateful messages being received by the EAPS department members and young alumni who had participated in the twitter storm that precipitated the cancellation of Dr. Abbot. The Atlantic publishes an article with a negative view of the Abbot cancellation. The National Association of Scholars publishes an online article condemning the cancellation of Dr. Abbot and discussing its implications for MIT and science. The Academic Freedom Alliance sends a second letter to MIT protesting the cancellation of Dr. Abbot. The Boston Globe publishes an article about the cancellation of Dr. Abbot. The Tech publishes an article on the Abbot cancellation. In reaction to continuing criticism from inside and outside MIT, President Rachael Reif sends an open letter to the MIT community about the Carlson Lecture cancellation. He starts by apologizing to the members of the EAPS community who were receiving online targeting and hateful messages for participating in the negative Twitter storm leading up to the cancellation of Dr. Abbot. President Reif expresses his tremendous support for Prof. van der Hilst and reiterates the gaslighting story that the Carlson Lecture cancellation was entirely van der Hilst's decision. The New York Times publishes an article about the Abbot cancellation. Prof. Lily Tsai, a political science professor and the Chair of the Faculty, holds two forums with the MIT faculty on freedom of expression. Prof. Tsai recounts the gaslighting narrative about the Abbot Cancellation to the faculty. About 175 faculty members attend the two forums. During the forums, Prof. Tsai conducts a secret ballot poll of the attendees that indicates a significant degree of self-cancellation is occurring among the MIT faculty. The Washington Examiner writes a lengthy editorial about the growing illiberalism in science centered around the cancellation of Dr. Abbot. An open letter is written by 159 members of the MIT faculty (15%) protesting the cancellation of Dr. Abbot and requesting the Institute to formally adopt the Chicago Principles and to improve its written commitment to academic freedom and free expression. The MIT Alumni Association holds two open forums on Freedom of Expression and Community for MIT alumni. MIT AA President Analisa Weigel joins Provost Marty Schmidt in continuing to gaslight the alumni community about how and why the Carlson Lecture was canceled. About 100 alumni participate in the two forums, with breakout sessions, along with about 70 anonymous "facilitators." MIT announces that Provost Marty Schmidt is leaving to take over the presidency of his alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He replaces Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73, who serves as a member of the MIT Corporation. President Rafael Reif announces that he will retire after serving ten years as MIT’s president.
Dr. Abbot makes his consolation presentation to an EAPS department meeting.
*Gaslighting refers to the practice in which a fictional narrative is presented to mislead the target audience from understanding the true reality.