Press Releases

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff Sends Letter to MIT President Harshly Criticizing University for Cancelling Professor Dorian Abbot’s Carlson Lecture

October 21, 2021 by ACTA

Washington, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni President Michael Poliakoff today sent a letter to L. Rafael Reif, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), harshly criticizing the university’s decision to cancel University of Chicago Professor Dorian Abbot’s invitation to deliver the prestigious John Carlson lecture on October 21, 2021.  The letter to President Reif reads, in part:

“On October 8, 2021, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) recognized University of Chicago Geophysicist Dorian Abbot as a Hero of Intellectual Freedom. The Hero of Intellectual Freedom award is an initiative that honors those members of the academic community who protect and foster the diversity of viewpoints that is the lifeblood of liberal education.

“As you may know, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences invited Professor Abbot to give the prestigious John Carlson Lecture on October 21, 2021. However, in reaction to fury on Twitter against Professor Abbot’s views on diversity, equity, and inclusion in institutional admissions and hiring practices, Professor Robert van der Hilst canceled the event. 

“There was no legitimate justification for canceling the Carlson Lecture based on Professor Abbot’s August 2021 Newsweek opinion piece or his previous statements related to merit-based standards in higher education. MIT’s commitment to academic freedom and the free and open exchange of ideas will be tested and judged by the university’s response to this outrage.

“Section 9.0 of MIT’s Policies and Procedures direct the institution as follows: “In an academic community, the free and open exchange of ideas and viewpoints reflected in the concept of academic freedom sometimes prove disturbing or offensive to some. The examination and challenging of assumptions, beliefs or opinions is, however, intrinsic to the rigorous education that MIT strives to provide.” This is an admirable policy and one that ACTA encourages you and “your colleagues, as well as all MIT leadership, to remember when considering how to repair the damage that this disinvitation has caused to Professor Abbot and to MIT.

“Though MIT invited Professor Abbot to give a lecture to the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at a later date, it is an insufficient, arguably insulting response. MIT should do more to ensure that future guest lecturers are provided deference with regards to the academic freedom and viewpoint diversity that academic scholarship demands. “We also urge MIT to adopt the Chicago Principles on Freedom of Expression, which 82 institutions have implemented to date, and which represent the gold standard for policies that uphold the free exchange of ideas.”

This letter is also being sent to all members of the MIT Corporation and can be viewed here.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gabrielle Anglin
(202) 798-5425


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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