“People have to start speaking out. If they don’t, things will keep getting worse,” University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot told me over the phone yesterday.
He should know.
On September 30, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) disinvited Abbot, who teaches in Chicago’s Department of Geophysical Sciences, from giving its prestigious Carlson Lecture, an annual public address connecting science with the larger community.
Following the horrific violence that shook Chicago in the summer of 2020, he spoke out in YouTube videos against woke ideology and urged that academic decisions be made on the basis of academic merit and without racial or identity politics considerations.
A group of aggrieved graduate students at the University of Chicago – which pioneered the eponymous “Chicago Principles” of academic freedom – demanded that Abbot’s teaching and research be circumscribed to protect the campus community from the supposed “violence” of his remarks.
When that failed and Abbot expounded on his ideas in an August 2021 Newsweek op-ed and an article posted on the former New York Times journalist Bari Weiss’s Substack, a Twitter mob gathered to prevent him from speaking at other universities, including MIT, which succumbed to internal pressure and canceled his Carlson Lecture, which had to do with climate science and the possibility of life on other planets.
You might just be on another planet if you believe free speech and academic freedom are not under massive assault in our country, but Abbot did the right and courageous thing. He fought back.
Once an apolitical man devoted to his scientific research and keeping his distance from the charged invective of our times, within the last few days he has become one of the most outspoken defenders of free speech in academia.
“The worst that can happen is that some people might not like me,” he told me, “I’m a tenured professor so I don’t really care.”
Tens of thousands of tenured professors enjoy the same protections, but very few speak out for fear of the potential consequences.
Nevertheless, Abbot’s confrontational approach is winning.
Many of his University of Chicago colleagues are quietly supportive. Beyond the university’s environment, he told me that he has received about a thousand e-mails, only one of which was negative.
The recently formed Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), an invitation-only group of concerned university faculty members committed to free speech in academia, fired off a lengthy letter to MIT firmly but politely calling for it to reverse the cancelation.
MIT has not done so, but Princeton University’s James Madison Program for American Ideals and Institutions has invited Abbot to deliver the same lecture on the originally scheduled date. It will be broadcasted for free via Zoom on October 21.
Abbot does not believe his case or the general issue should be politicized. “This is not a liberal versus conservative issue,” he said, “it’s an authoritarian versus free society issue.”
Thanks to his courage, we know who the authoritarians are. And we know how to beat them.
Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University. Read more — Here.
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