AFA Sends Letter to MIT Condemning Disinvitation of Speaker, Urging Reversal

Oct 5, 2021 | Press Release

AFA Sends Letter to MIT Condemning Disinvitation of Speaker, Urging Reversal

Letter: Disinvitation of Professor Dorian Abbot from prestigious lecture “represents an egregious violation of the principles of academic freedom”

PRINCETON, NJ – Today, the Academic Freedom Alliance sent a letter to the president of MIT and the head of the university’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences regarding the disinvitation of University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot to deliver a prestigious annual lecture on climate science. After publicly announcing that Professor Abbot would be delivering this year’s John Carlson Lecture, the university rescinded the invitation and cancelled the event over controversy surrounding his positions on diversity initiatives at universities. 

“I write on behalf of the Academic Freedom Alliance to express our firm view that this disinvitation represents an egregious violation of the principles of academic freedom and an abnegation of MIT’s own stated commitment to freedom of thought,” wrote Keith E. Whittington, chair of the AFA’s academic committee, in the letter to MIT President L. Rafael Reif and Professor Robert van der Hilst.  “The Academic Freedom Alliance stands firmly behind Professor Abbot in this matter and calls on MIT to adhere to its academic freedom principles and allow the Carlson Lecture to go forward without interruption.”

Professor Abbot’s invitation was rescinded following a disinvitation campaign from MIT students and faculty centered around his position on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at universities. In a recent op-ed in Newsweek, Abbot argued that, while well intentioned, many current DEI initiatives “violate the ethical and legal principle of equal treatment.”

Regarding his disinvitation and the AFA’s letter, Professor Abbot said, “I value my colleagues at MIT very much and respect them deeply as scientists. I hope we can put this behind us and continue our scientific relationships. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that what happened was a clear violation of academic freedom, should never have occurred, and should not be repeated. I am very grateful that the AFA is here to make the case for academic freedom and to counter the attacks of political activists who are imposing professional costs on scientists in order to restrict open discussion of important scientific and societal issues.”

Professor Abbot’s disinvitation has attracted attention across the scientific community. Anna Krylov, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Southern California who has published an academic paper on the perils of politicizing science, said of MIT’s decision, “This is an alarming case of scholarship suppression and censorship in STEM. This cancellation was facilitated by Twitter vigilantes and enabled by the complacency of the leadership of our institutions. Suppression of scientific communications in response to the demands of activists offended by the political views of a scientist threatens academic freedom, undermines the core values of  science, and subverts the scientific enterprise. It also threatens our future. How are we to solve today’s societal challenges if we silence scientists because of politically non-conforming views?”

The AFA’s letter can be read in its entirety here

The Academic Freedom Alliance is a diverse alliance of college and university faculty members who are dedicated to upholding the principles of academic freedom and professorial free speech. These principles are central to the mission of our institutions of higher education for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. The AFA is committed to defending universal principles of academic freedom and will come to the assistance of professors regardless of their individual views. The Academic Freedom Alliance itself takes no position on the merits of the substantive content of faculty speech or writing.


Learn More About the Academic Freedom Alliance

No one, at any academic institution, should fear suppression or retaliation for speaking out publicly in any form. We encourage you to join the movement in supporting the flourishing of intellectual life and the pursuit of knowledge and truth at institutions of higher learning.