[October 13, 2021] There comes a time in all our lives that we must take a position that is neither safe, popular, or diplomatic. We take that position because it is the right thing to do. Over the past few years, we’ve seen many leaders take the low road of moral cowardice rather than subject themselves to ridicule.
The latest involves another case of college administrators who willfully reject the principles of academic freedom, inquiry, and free speech. MIT Professor and chairman of MIT’s Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary studies department succumbed to Twitter whiners when they objected to University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot speaking on the esoteric field of “climate and the potential for life on other planets,” a field of his expertise.
Professor Abbot’s “thought crime?” He advocates that hiring and admission decisions should be based on individual merit rather than identify group membership. And, he has stood up for principles of free speech and academic freedom. Prof. Abbot’s research is beyond reproach. MIT had awarded Prof. Abbot the Carlson Lecture based on his contributions to the field.
But, steps in Prof. Robert van der Hilst.
Prof. van der Hilst quickly caved to the mob and canceled the Carlson Lecture to his and MIT’s shame. MIT’s official statement passed the buck to Prof. van der Hilst and made not even passing reference to MIT’s prior statements in support of free speech and academic freedom. For his part, Prof. van der Hilst took full responsibility for the decision, claiming that the “current distractions” created by the Abbot’s cancelers would detract from the effectiveness of the lecture. He also downplayed the importance of the Carlson Lecture (previously promoted by MIT as a prestigious annual event), saying it was “not a scientific talk for fellow scientists,” but merely an outreach event to “inspire and engage with area high school students.” – Louis K. Boham1
Several leaders in academia have rightly condemned Prof. van der Hilst. The Foundation of Individual Rights in Education and the Academic Freedom Alliance issued blistering condemnations of MIT and Prof. van der Hilst. Good! At least not all academics are cowards.
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