Professor Dorian Abbot
Professor Dorian Abbot of the University of Chicago was invited to give the prestigious John Carlson Lecture at MIT, on the topic of the habitability of planets outside our Solar System. It was scheduled for October 21, 2021. Throughout September that year, a Twitter campaign built to get him uninvited. On September 30, MIT told Professor Abbot that it was canceling his lecture.
In 2020 Prof. Abbot made Youtube videos advocating to treat people as individuals and hiring them on that basis rather than on group identity. Then on August 12, 2021 Abbott published an op-ed in Newsweek advocating Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) in place of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) for faculty hiring and promotion. A Twitter campaign was begun to get him disinvited from giving lectures at other universities. In late September, a group of MIT grad students, postdocs, and recent alumni demanded on Twitter that he be disinvited. Eight days later, the lecture was cancelled. The disinvitation was announced by Professor Robert van der Hilst, head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences (EAPS). As the New York Times put it (quoted in a Reason article which is open-access):
He stressed that he talked to senior officials at M.I.T. before deciding to cancel the lecture. "It was not who shouted the loudest," Dr. van der Hilst said. "I listened very carefully."
Dr. van der Hilst speculated that Black students might well have been repelled if they learned of Dr. Abbot's views on affirmative action. This lecture program was founded to explore new findings on climate science and M.I.T. has hoped to attract such students to the school. He acknowledged that these same students might well in years to come encounter professors, mentors even, who hold political views at odds with their own.
"Those are good questions but somewhat hypothetical," Dr. van der Hilst said. "Freedom of speech goes very far but it makes civility difficult."
MIT’s disinvitation of Professor Abbot was widely covered, including by the New York Times, Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and the London Daily Mail. It was often noted that the disinvitation was a new low in university suppression of free speech: Abbot was disinvited not because of what he was going to say in his lecture, but because of his opinions expressed in unrelated writing.
What did Dr. Abbot Do That Was So Offensive?