Science professor whose talk was cancelled by MIT over diversity views takes Princeton speech offer

Abbot's will talk about climate change. His opinions for which MIT canceled its event were about diversity, equity inclusion initiatives

Updated: October 21, 2021 - 11:58am

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In the wake of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology canceling a planned guest lecture by a University of Chicago associate professor of geophysical science, Princeton University's James Madison Program in American Ideals & Institutions has stepped in to pick up the invite.

Professor Dorian Abbot's planned lecture on climate and the potential for life on other planet was canceled by the school because of comments he has had made about diversity, equity and inclusion. 

The Princeton event is scheduled for Thursday, the same day as the canceled MIT event.

Abbot has made the case that introducing and subsequently mandating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts in collegiate departments and beyond was introducing bias as opposed to eliminating it. 

Abbot also has spoken publicly about his belief that college campuses and academic departments have embraced an orthodoxy around DEI initiatives and the logic behind them that, if and when challenged, tends to result in significant and brutal punishment for the challenger.

"Nearly every decision taken on campus, from admissions, to faculty hiring, to course content, to teaching methods, is made through the lens of DEI. This regime was imposed from the top and has never been adequately debated. In the current climate it cannot be openly debated: the emotions around DEI are so strong that self-censorship among dissenting faculty is nearly universal," wrote Abbot in a Newsweek op-ed over the summer. 

MIT's earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences department, in cancelling the lecture that had been on the books since 2020, invited him to speak at the university to fellow scientists (instead of the general public, who would have been the audience at the original address) at a later date. Abbot says he has accepted the follow up invitation. He will address members of the MIT academic community on May 4, 2022.

L. Rafael Reif, the president of MIT, wrote in a mass email to the university on Monday that "there is no doubt that this matter has caused many people inside and outside our community to question the institute's commitment to free expression. Some report feeling that certain topics are now off limits at MIT."

He also said: "Let me say clearly what I have observed through more than 40 years at MIT: Freedom of expression is a fundamental value of the institute." 

Princeton professor Robert George said about the event: "I'm delighted to report that we've expanded the ZOOM quota for Dr. Dorian Abbot's Princeton lecture – the one shockingly and shamefully canceled by MIT – and literally thousands of people have registered."

Abbot said in an email to Inside Higher Ed of the situation: "People can judge my character for themselves based on how I’ve handled this situation. I also encourage everyone to attend my lecture on Thursday and see for themselves whether I am fit to give a public-facing lecture."

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