Almost two years later, MIT alumni who heard how MIT cancelled Dr. Abbot’s appearance at the Carlson Lecture are still angry. Here are four reasons why.
MIT is the best STEM university in the world, and it has been the recognized leader in STEM research and education. The scientific method depends on free speech and academic freedom – the freedom to propose alternative theories and viewpoints and to challenge and examine those proposed alternatives. MIT graduates know and respect this.
No STEM university should ever suppress the speech of scientists for any reason, whether over a direct criticism of the scientific work or for some other motivation. MIT should especially not have cancelled the appearance of a visiting scientist based on the opposition from a small, disgruntled group of graduate students who objected to the scientist’s personal views on an unrelated subject.
MIT has never acknowledged that cancelling Dr. Abbot was wrong, either wrong in principle, or even as a bad public relations decision. Even after the faculty Ad Hoc Committee on Freedom of Expression condemned the cancellation of invited speakers in principle (without referring specifically to Dr. Abbot), no one in the MIT administration or faculty has publicly acknowledged that cancelling Dr. Abbot was a mistake. MIT has not apologized, either to Dr. Abbot or to the MIT community for this mistake.
Rather than admit that a scientist’s presentation was cancelled at the behest of disgruntled graduate students who objected to the scientist’s personal views, MIT chose to gaslight the MIT community with narratives made up after the decision to cancel Dr. Abbot.
At various times MIT stated their rationales were:
The president of the MIT Alumni Association repeated these misrepresentations when she addressed the online town halls held for the alumni after the Cancellation. The misrepresentation was obvious gaslighting. One thing MIT graduates universally dislike is being treated like they are idiots.
Because MIT never admitted it made a mistake, no one has been held accountable for staining MIT’s reputation. While both the MIT President and the MIT Provost involved in this episode have been replaced, many of the other senior administrators, academic deans and faculty members involved in making this decision and promoting the disinformation campaign are still in place, unchastened. MIT has never repudiated the de facto policy it established with the Abbot Cancellation -- that a minority group of graduate students can define what is acceptable for MIT and impose their values on the Institute. There is no reason to believe that MIT learned the lesson that it should not suppress speech some people don’t like.