Educators railed against cancel culture ahead of a remote lecture by a geophysicist banned from giving the same speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Thursday.
Several thousand people logged into the presentation by Dorian Abbot, an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, who had been scrapped from the prestigious Carlson Lecture scheduled for the same day.
Princeton’s James Madison Program in Ideals and Institutions jumped in to book Abbot, even though the program usually focuses on constitutional law and political thought, Professor Robert P. George said.
“We are not a scientific institute,” George said in his introductory remarks. “However we believe that one of the enduring principles in our tradition of civic life, civic liberty, is free speech and academic freedom. And that is why we are hosting Dr. Abbot’s lecture.”
George bashed MIT’s decision to cancel Abbot’s presentation due to pushback over Abbot’s criticism of diversity efforts on college campuses.
“We at the Madison program consider this dis-invitation by MIT to be chilling to academic freedom and free speech,” George said, calling MIT “the great science, math, engineering, technology” university.
“We consider that all of us in academic life, all of us in intellectual life, all of us as Americas, have a stake in academic freedom everywhere, in civil liberty and freedom of speech, everywhere.”
MIT faculty member Bernhardt Trout, a chemical engineering professor, was invited to speak ahead of the lecture and said the cancelation has sparked activity to “put the forces of illiberalism at bay,” and brought some faculty out of the woodwork to make a stand.
“However with this advancement we still need to be realistic and continue to work against those illiberal proponents which are small in number but loud in voice,” he said.
He then shared a claim he called his saddest observation.
“We also must note that our upper administration would clearly have just wanted to cancel Professor Abbot and be done with it and only spoke in defense of speech because of pushback from the community,” he said.
“For MIT, being the paradigm of science and technology, seems to have lost the understanding of the originators of the modern era – that science only thrives in liberal democracy, and liberal democracy is only successful with modern science.”
Abbot launched immediately into his lecture, focused on studying the earth’s climate and identifying planets in other solar systems and how experts estimate how they may or may not be habitable.
He had previously addressed his controversial canceling, which came partially in response to an August op-ed in Newsweek, where he criticized diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on campuses as looking to boost diversity by excluding applicants of particular groups.
Abbot and co-author Ivan Marinovic argued for an entirely merit and qualification-based application process.