A University of Chicago professor, whose prestigious lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was canceled at the behest of a Twitter mob who disagreed with his viewpoints, warns that “free society is at risk” as “woke ideology” and cancel culture takes hold.
Dorian Abbot, a professor in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, had his appearance at the Carlson Lecture cancelled on Sept. 30 “to avoid controversy” just eight days after a Twitter mob consisting of MIT students, postdocs and recent alumni went after him, according to a written account published on Common Sense by Bari Weiss
For 10 years, Abbot has been teaching and researching climate change and the possibility of life on extrasolar planets, never considering himself a very political person until about five years ago when he noticed a shift in attitude toward discussions involving a difference in opinions, Abbot wrote on Weiss’ Substack.
He thought the problem would go away and neglected to speak out for fear of negative consequences, until the violence of the Summer 2020 broke out following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. At that time, Abbot decided he could no longer stay quiet.
“If you shut down discourse, the only means to resolve conflict is violence,” Abbot told the Daily Caller News Foundation on Wednesday. “One side engaged in violence all summer and then the other side did in January. That’s not the type of society I want to live in.”
In the fall of 2020, Abbot started making YouTube videos advocating for merit-based evaluations that stressed the importance of the individual and treating everyone with dignity and respect, he explained. He believes these values translate to the ability to openly express a difference in opinions.
“I think most people would agree with this ideal, but some people want to forgo it in order to achieve some objective that they think is really important,” Abbot told the DCNF. “I think we need to be insistent that we never give up this ideal for any reason.”
He was first targeted by a group of graduate students in his department, which was later revealed to be a coordinated attack with the help of a listserv from the the Ford Foundation Fellowship Program, Abbot recounted on Weiss’ Substack.
The groups of students wrote a letter of denunciation that said his “videos threaten the safety and belonging of all underrepresented groups within the department… represent an aggressive act towards the research and teaching communities” that he is a part of.
University of Chicago’s President at the time, Robert J. Zimmer “simply issued a statement saying that we support academic freedom and will not punish faculty for sharing their opinions,” Abbot told the DCNF. “That put a rest to the whole controversy, and showed that there is basically no cost to just ignoring the demands of a Twitter mob.”
In August, Abbot and a colleague wrote an op-ed in Newsweek arguing that the way Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts are implemented on campus “violates the ethical and legal principle of equal treatment” and “treats persons as merely means to an end, giving primacy to a statistic over the individuality of a human being.”
In its place, he and the other professor argued for an “an alternative framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) whereby university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone.”
Again, his critics went after him on Twitter and said he should not be invited to speak or give lectures at other universities, even suggesting other experts to take his place. Abbot said he isn’t the only person in his position who believes in a merit-based system and the importance of the individual.
Free society is at risk if cancel culture and “woke ideology” continues, Abbot told the DCNF.
“I have consistently maintained that woke ideology is essentially totalitarian in nature: it attempts to corral the entirety of human existence into one narrow ideological viewpoint and to silence anyone who disagrees… the lesson of history is that we need to name and confront totalitarianisms before they cause disaster, while it is still possible to do so,” Abbot wrote on Weiss’ Substack.
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