In today’s repressive atmosphere of woke leftist culture, it’s rare to see faculty members stand up to the mob in academia, but that’s exactly what happened when tenured Professor Dorian Abbot questioned his university’sDiversity/Equity/Inclusion (DEI) efforts in a series of YouTube videos and articles.
Abbot, a Geophysical Sciences professor at the University of Chicago expressed his alarm over the way DEI was being implemented not only to stifle “dissenting viewpoints” on campus but how almost every decision made on campus, “from admissions, to faculty hiring, to course content, to teaching methods, is made through the lens of DEI.”
Couple that alarm with years of noticing “the increasing number of issues and viewpoints [that had] become impossible to discuss on campus”; witnessing the leftist “justifications and dishonesty that accompanied” the violence in the streets of Chicago; having a colleague at a seminar conclude, ‘If you are just hiring the best people, you are part of the problem,’ Abbot was convinced he “could no longer remain silent” about DEI’s detrimental impact on academic freedom and individual worth.
“In the fall of 2020,” writes Abbot, “I started advocating openly for academic freedom and merit-based evaluations. I recorded some short YouTube videos in which I argued for the importance of treating each person as an individual worthy of dignity and respect. In an academic context, that means giving everyone a fair and equal opportunity when they apply for a position as well as allowing them to express their opinions openly, even if you disagree with them.”
Dignity. Equal opportunity. Respect. Who could argue with that? Cue the woke outrage mob.
Abbot was “immediately targeted for cancelation, “primarily by a group of graduate students in [his] department.” It was later discovered the targeting was at least partially planned and coordinated on the far-left Ford Foundation Fellowship Program listserv. From there, a group of 162 “members of the Department of Geophysical Sciences Community at the University of Chicago” sent a letter of denunciation to the department’s faculty.
“It claimed that I threatened the ‘safety and belonging of all underrepresented groups within the department,’ and it was presented to my department chair,” wrote Abbot. “The letter demanded that my teaching and research be restricted in a way that would cripple my ability to function as a scientist.” The rabid group even went so far as to label Abbot’s videos as “an aggressive act towards the research and teaching communities of which Professor Abbot is a member.” See? Academic questioning and debate are “aggressive” to the woke mob and you must not only pay for it but you must also be completely destroyed.
Thankfully, University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer quickly put out a strong statement of support for both the professor and free expression:
From time to time, faculty members at the University share opinions and scholarship that provoke spirited debate and disagreement, and in some cases offend members of the University community.
We believe universities have an important role as places where novel and even controversial ideas can be proposed, tested and debated. For this reason, the University does not limit the comments of faculty members, mandate apologies, or impose other disciplinary consequences for such comments, unless there has been a violation of University policy or the law.
Faculty are free to agree or disagree with any policy or approach of the University, its departments, schools or divisions without being subject to discipline, reprimand or other form of punishment.”
Score one for the Good Guys. Zimmer’s statement put an end to that, and that is where things stood until August of 2021 when Abbot and a colleague wrote an op-ed on diversity for Newsweek.
[W]e argued that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as it currently is 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.” We proposed instead “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.” We noted that this would mean an end to legacy and athletic admission advantages, which significantly favor white applicants.
Merit. Fairness. Equality. Cue the woke outrage mob—again—but with new a new strategy.
Abbot’s detractors took to Twitter to argue he “should not be invited to give science seminars at other universities and coordinated replacement speakers.” This social media tactic is an “increasingly common way to ratchet up the cost of dissenting because disseminating new work to colleagues is an important part of the scientific endeavor.” And unfortunately, it’s proven effective.
“Sure enough, this strategy was employed when I was chosen to give the Carlson Lecture at MIT — a major honor in my field,” explained Abbot. “It is an annual public talk given to a large audience and my topic was “climate and the potential for life on other planets.” On September 22, a new Twitter mob, composed of a group of MIT students, postdocs, and recent alumni, demanded that I be uninvited.”
The Twitter strategy worked and fast; MIT caved by “canceling the Carlson lecture this year in order to avoid controversy.” That’s worth stating again: “A small group of ideologues mounted a Twitter campaign to cancel a distinguished science lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because they disagreed with some of the political positions the speaker had taken. And they were successful within eight days.”
What this also showed was that the left never gives up, they simply change tactics. “The fact that such stories have become an everyday feature of American life should do nothing to diminish how shocking they are and how damaging they are to a free society,” said Abbot. “The fact that MIT, one of the greatest universities in the world, caved in so quickly will only encourage others to deploy this same tactic.” However, Abbot is not ready to sit down and be quiet.
Abbot maintains that this story is “an example, as well as a striking illustration of the threat woke ideology poses to our culture, our institutions and to our freedoms.” Abbot stands by his belief “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,” which stems from “the ideology’s abandonment of the principle of the inherent dignity of each human being.”
“Clearly, wokeism has not reached a terrible nadir of destruction yet,” said Abbot. “But 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.” Now is the time to stand up. “It’s time to say no to the mob, no to the cancellations. And it’s time to be forthright about your true opinions,” Abbot concludes. “Speaking out now may seem risky. But the cost of remaining silent is far steeper.”