Transcript of Currents 045: Dorian Abbot on Protecting Academic Freedom

The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Dorian Abbot. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

Jim: A quick reminder. For a great experience in learning strategy and tactics check out my new mobile game Network Wars. That’s two words, network and wars, on Apple App Store and on Google Play just 99 cents. No ads and no in-game purchases. Thanks. Today’s guest is Dorian Abbot. Dorian is a professor of geophysical science at the University of Chicago. His recent work includes research on climate, paleoclimate, the cryosphere, that means frozen stuff, I had to look that one up. Planetary habitability, and exoplanets, and that means planets circling stars other than our sun. Welcome, Dorian.

Dorian: Thanks. Happy to be here.

Jim: This is exciting. Dorian has recently found himself caught up in a cancel culture event when his long-scheduled endowed public lecture, the John Carlson Lecture, annual lecture was canceled by my alma mater MIT, due to Dorian’s stance, and views, and a domain that has nothing to do with the topic of his talk. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what happened and maybe provide some personal color on the whole deal?

Dorian: Sure. Well, first let me just talk about the lecture. The lecture which actually eventually took place in the Madison Program at Princeton, which was organized by Professor Robert George. The lecture was about determining which other planets might have liquid water on their surface, which is potentially … It means it’s a good place to search for life. And so that was the subject of the lecture. And what … The way we approached that is we use climate models, which can solve for the fluid dynamics and the radiative transfer of an atmosphere that have been developed for earth and we modify them to work for extrasolar planets, which were mentioned in the intro. And then we try to see which types of planets could have a climate that could support liquid water.

Dorian: The interesting point is that a lot of this involves clouds, which are the most uncertain component of climate models. And then we potentially can look at astronomical observations and see which models are doing the clouds better in a regime that doesn’t exist on earth. So that’s why it’s sort of a fun problem. And so what happened is a colleague and I published a Newsweek article where we argued against what’s called diversity, equity, and inclusion, and in favor of what we named merit, fairness, and equality. And so the merit, fairness, and equality framework would involve reducing biases and allowing everyone an equal opportunity when we do admissions, and hiring, and promotions, and not making judgments on the basis of immutable characteristics such as race or sex.

Jim: And the Twitter mob went nuts. At least a small little but loud Twitter mob went nuts saying, “Oh my God, we can’t have somebody talking about exoplanet cloud cover who has views X on diversity and inclusion.” And unfortunately, and for the first time that I’m aware of, the MIT leadership bent the knee and canceled your talk.

Dorian: That’s right. And so I made similar arguments at the University of Chicago a year ago with a similar Twitter mob. And actually, in that case, it resulted in a letter of pronunciation by a number of students. And the response of the president of the University of Chicago at the time, President Zimmer, was to just say, “No, we’re not doing that. That’s not what we do at the University of Chicago. Our faculty have the right to speak on any issue they wish in any format they want and they won’t be punished for it.” And that completely put an end to the problem. And so it shows that if you have strong leadership who’s willing to stand up for principles of academic freedom, you can squash these cancellation attacks immediately. They go nowhere.

Jim: That was … Robert Zimmer definitely a hero to those of us who support free speech and free inquiry in academia. And, of course, the famous Chicago Principles provide him a great base to stand upon. In fact, several of us alumni have been sending annoying letters to the president and provost at MIT saying, “You guys should adopt the Chicago Principles and you wouldn’t find yourself in this God damn conundrum. You could just basically tell the Twitter mobs, sorry, we don’t do that, right, we don’t care what our faculty who we care personally,” right. And interestingly, Zimmer in his letter basically telling the Twitter mob to go take a piss, reaffirmed his commitment to Chicago’s diversity efforts, right. So he was sort of saying “I kind of sort of maybe disagree with Abbot but so what he’s entitled to his opinion.” And that’s the key of adopting the Chicago Principles. It gets the administration out of attacking their own faculty for their own faculty’s views.

Dorian: So it’s good to have the … That document adopted officially and it’s something the administration can point to. And something that people should understand is the way that the courts treat this, if you officially adopt the Chicago Principles then they’re part of the faculty’s contract and the faculty can sue for redress if they’re violated so it’s very important to be adopted. And then another thing everyone should be aware of is something called the Kalven Report at the University of Chicago. So we have the Chicago Principles, which basically say that each faculty member and student has to be allowed to express their opinions. And even if someone else is offended or claims to be offended, that’s not a reason to stop them from their academic work and opinions on any subject.

Dorian: But the Kalven Report says that the university as a corporate body, either the entirety of the university through statements of the provost and the president or divisions of the university through statements of a Dean or a department chair, cannot take a side on social and political issues. Because if it were to do that, they would be limiting the ability of scholars who disagree with that side to dissent because those scholars would feel that their salary, promotions, classes, et cetera, might be threatened. And so that’s an equally important principle that should be adopted at other schools. The principle of institutional neutrality.

Jim: I’ll have to check that one out. Back to the Chicago principles which is getting a lot of attention. 87 universities including some quite prestigious ones like Princeton, the University of Virginia, et cetera, have adopted it and it’s a good first step at least even if quite willing to go as far as total institutional neutrality to provide immunity against Twitter mobs suppressing free speech. And let’s make it clear here that the views that you expressed are very much in the American mainstream, right. This is not Dorian Abbot advocating cannibalism or satanic rituals or something like this. Essentially … I’ll put words in your mouth and push back if you feel it’s unfair. Essentially, you and your co-author Ivan Marinovic were essentially saying we support the goals of more diversity and opportunity for people in education, but what we don’t agree with is putting the thumb on the scale of merit, right. We’re basically saying, “People should be hired or admitted based on objective measures of merit.” Is that fair enough?

Dorian: That’s exactly right. And in terms of the broader support among the American public, 75% of Americans say that diversity is important.

Jim: Let me read the statement. It’s very important because this is a extremely clear statement from a recent Pew Research poll. “When it comes to decisions about hiring and promotions, companies and organization should only take qualifications into account even if it results in less diversity.” Now that’s a very strong, clear statement. 74% of Americans in a very recent poll agreed on that. And another one that I think is also very important to show that this is a mainstream view, whether you agree or not. And there are plausible arguments on the other side. Personally, I don’t agree with them but there are plausible arguments. But to attack you and folks like you, this is … Are clearly very mainstream.

Jim: The other one that’s very interesting is, California recently voted 44 to 56 against repealing its famous Proposition 209. And this is California, one of the most progressive states in the union. And again, what does Proposition 209 say? “The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” Again, very clear language. Got a majority reaffirmation just a year or so ago in California. So these views which you were attacked for are utterly mainstream.

Dorian: So if you look at that Pew Report in more detail, so 74% say that we should only use qualifications for hiring and promotions, and 75% also say that diversity is important so that’s not a rejection of the idea that diversity is important. And the other interesting statistic is that both parties and all races, a majority of respondents supported the position that only qualification should be used for hiring and promotion. And I think that speaks to a basic moral intuition that it’s not acceptable to instrumentalize human beings to define some utopian social goal and then to treat individual people differently in order to engineer that goal. And so that’s what I think is really going on there.

Dorian: But it is also important to emphasize that there’s this debate on this particular issue, and people of goodwill I think can disagree and have different opinions and I respect that. However, there’s the secondary issue of a small group of ideologues saying that anyone who disagrees will not only be allowed never to speak on that issue but not to speak on any other issue and to become persona non grata on university campuses. And I don’t think anyone who understands what a university is for should think that that’s acceptable.

Jim: That is amazing to me. I went back and looked at some of the tweets that are still public and some of the people that were embarrassed I think by the participation that hit them. And you’d also captured some that you sent me. And one of the things that was striking to me was how self-righteous these folks were. They thought this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do to attempt to suppress somebody for very reasonable mainstream views which are currently a live issue of discourse in American society. And this is terrifying. This is Maoism essentially, right. That if anyone who differs in any way from our ideology, meaning these folks views on what’s correct, must be an enemy, must become an enemy of the people, must be attacked relentlessly and not allowed to have any traction in their career at all. This is extremism. This is pro totalitarianism.

Dorian: I think you’re correct in that analysis.

Jim: It’s very bad. And it’s also … To me personally, as an alum and someone who’s active in some of the governance bodies at MIT, very discouraging that a university that’s historically been astall work for open inquiry and free speech, has bent the knee in this case and has refused to repent. And again, all organizations make mistakes. I was a business dude for many years. Leadership roles, CEOs, stuff like that. We made mistakes, I made mistakes. And one of the points I make is that if an organization makes a mistake it’s a learning opportunity, right. You can say, “Wait a minute, I made a mistake. Here’s why we made a mistake. Here’s the action we’re going to take to not make this mistake in the future.”

Jim: Unfortunately, MIT has been sticking to their guns though with some weasel wording. It’s been quite annoying. For instance, in the New York Times article that was written about all this, Robert van der Hilst I think was the actual person that canceled your talk, head of the Earth and Planetary Sciences department at MIT. At first, they were saying, “Oh, I don’t know.” Bullshit, bullshit. Now he’s fallen back on real weasel words. Oh, they don’t like the way you stated certain things in your Newsweek article. As if his literary criticism has any merit with respect to whether you should be giving a scientific talk. And just for fun, I went and pulled up his CV, his academic bio, and I didn’t see a single qualification in there for literary criticism, right. So ridiculous that they’re grasping at straws to hold onto this decision.

Dorian: So what everyone should understand is that this is not a debate about the specific way Yvonne and I phrased this. We tried our best to phrase it in … As good and I guess non-inflammatory way as possible, but there’s a certain group of people who’s going to try to be inflamed by anything and then to use that as a political mechanism to try to shut down the speech of others. And the second thing to understand is you don’t need free speech principles to defend someone who never says anything that offends anyone else. You need free speech principles to defend people who will occasionally say something that someone else will take offense at or claim to take offense at in order to shut down their speech. And so it’s … It represents a basic misunderstanding of why we have free speech principles. And I think that’s something that’s worth naming and identifying because that’s a step that universities can take.

Dorian: When we have freshman orientations, we can spend times explaining what academic freedom is and why it’s important. And informing students that even if they’re going to feel challenged by certain things, that doesn’t mean that they’ve been harmed by them. They need to confront them rationally not with wild, emotional responses. And they need to meet arguments with arguments, not with attempts to silence their opponent.

Jim: This strikes me as what you’re talking about here are the basic enlightenment values upon which Western civilization is built. And the challenges to this are not just fringe phenomena, these are attacking the bases upon which our civilization is built.

Dorian: That’s exactly right. So this is a … What’s happening now is a fundamental critique of our country and of liberalism generally, which includes the American liberal and the American conservative tradition. It’s a fundamental critique and attack on the values that have created the country that we have today.

Jim: And it’s important also to note that while at the moment some of the most visible illiberal attacks on free expression, free inquiry are coming from the left, they’re also still coming from the right. I went and looked at a very interesting group called Fire. Their website is and they track suppression of academic free speech and free inquiry and I pulled three relatively recent cases from their list of cases that you might call right-wing attempts at suppression. The very recent University of Florida, the state is attempting to ban professors from testifying on a voting rights case. I mean, what the hell, right? That’s not good. Another community college professor, history professor was fired for criticizing Mike Pence, and Montana State University told students to take down Black Lives Matter flags, right. So while about 75 or 80% of their cases seem to be triggered by left illiberalism, there’s also still some right illiberalism loose in the country. And I think it’s equally important to attack right illiberalism when we see it as well.

Dorian: That’s exactly right. And one of the sort of dissembling tactics that’s sometimes used to argue against academic freedom is to try to paint it as a right-wing issue, but that’s 100% wrong. Promoting academic freedom and fight and cancel culture on campus is not a right versus left issue. All Americans of goodwill, both Democrats and Republicans, who support the free society and reject authoritarianism should be against cancel culture and for academic freedom.

Jim: Indeed, indeed. And, of course, some people say, “Oh, this whole thing is overblown. Yes, every once in a while somebody does something and overreacts and does something wrong but it’s not a pervasive problem.” I’m going to release something here that’s new … That’s news. This is confidential. We got it through shall we say the back door. MIT very recently, in the last 10 days, had a special faculty meeting on the issue of free speech. And by secret ballot asked two questions. One, do you feel on an everyday basis that your voice or the voices of your colleagues are constrained at MIT? This is MIT now. This is rationalism uberolis, right. What percentage do you think said yes on an everyday basis that your voice and the voice of your colleagues are constrained MIT?

Dorian: Me? What percentage do I think?

Jim: Just take a guess.

Dorian: 40%.

Jim: 52% at MIT. 52% and secret ballot. The second question. Are you worried given the current atmosphere and society that your voice or your colleague’s voices are increasingly in jeopardy?

Dorian: I guess 50% again.

Jim: 77% at MIT.

Dorian: That’s an amazing statistic. And so let’s talk about that for a second. Everyone should be aware of a report by Eric Kaufmann, social and political scientist, that came out last spring. And in it he studies the phenomenon of academic cancel culture and self-censorship which is what you’re describing there, which is people not speaking on issues because they’re worried about the consequences. And what he finds is that every year about three in 10,000 faculty are canceled as in what happened to me. Their seminar’s canceled or worse they lose their job. Okay. So it’s rare that someone is actually canceled like this.

Dorian: However, as you’re saying, if you then survey faculty you get numbers in the range of one in two are limiting their speech. And so the result is what he calls this Iceberg Effect. So a very small bit is peeking out over the water and sometimes people will try to claim that there’s not a problem because there’s just that small bit. But try fitting the Titanic into that little iceberg. There’s a huge bit underneath that’s going to rip your ship apart and that’s because half of our faculty and students, in rough terms, are limiting their speech and everybody loses because of that. The whole country loses if we have our academics not giving their true opinions about how they feel about issues and even limiting their scientific research in some cases.

Jim: I’ve actually chat with faculty people a lot in my role in science governance and it’s surprising how often I wouldn’t touch that issue, right, and that’s just absolutely wrong, right. I mean, these are issues that would be for the public good actually, but because they might fall into an area where a Twitter mob could come after them literally, professional scientists are not doing research that would be for the good of humanity because they’re afraid of these mobs, right.

Dorian: There’s one thing I’d like to draw out about that. They’re afraid of these mobs but they’re also afraid of an institutional fifth column. So we have these HR departments, departments of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and other administrators who are inside the university and they’re trying to affect these programs and they’re trying to silence people who disagree with them. So both of these situations people should be aware of. And one thing … We have a group of faculty called UChicago Free. One thing that we’ve proposed for the university is to have administrators who are … Who have the specific task of making sure that academic freedom is observed and collecting data like what you just revealed was collected at MIT in order to monitor and make sure that everyone is expressing themselves freely. And when there’s a meeting where there’s a DEI administrator, sometimes trying to make arguments that would repress freedom, we have someone else there who stands up in the meeting and say, “Oh, we can’t do that because that threatens our core institutional mission of the pursuit of truth.”

Jim: That’s a great idea. Let’s go on to our next topic. One of the things I saw that I thought raised my eyebrows and be a great opportunity for you to talk about, what it’s like to be participating in hiring committees and such in the current environment. This was a quote from an article. “What spurred Dorian Abbot to action was a comment from a colleague. That if you are just hiring the best people you are part of the problem.”

Dorian: So there’s an issue right now. I mean, one issue is that a lot of people are even unaware of the laws. And so what the law says on these issues is that you cannot take immutable characteristics into account in hiring. It’s very clear on that. The only exception is if there’s a lawsuit and a judge rules that there has been demonstrative and consistent discrimination in some sort of hiring. And then they have strict oversight where the judge can have oversight of a specific and limited timeframe program, and so otherwise, you can’t take these things into account.

Dorian: For admissions, you can take into account some of these immutable characteristics, but you have to do it in a way where the goal is to improve the education of everyone not as a sort of reparation for something you see in the past. And so that’s somehow been lost and people are trying to just … When you sit inside these committees people are just … They get the message that we want more of X people or Y people, and then that’s how the conversation goes rather than trying to make a neutral and merit-based evaluation.

Jim: I’m going to ask you a straight and tough question here. How often do you think hiring committees at elite universities are not hiring the best people under the influence of DEI?

Dorian: I can’t answer that question with any certainty because I don’t have the knowledge, but I think everyone should be aware that there is a … The current system that’s been set up, there’s a huge risk of that happening every time hiring occurs.

Jim: And so when you’re in these committee meetings, is there literally a DEI person there in the meeting too? A commissar essentially from the party?

Dorian: So what will often happen … So typically, there’s only faculty in the meetings, but what will often happen is one of the faculty … So this is different at every university and I can’t speak with certainty, in general. But what will often happen is one member of the committee is required to be on the DEI committee as well. And so there’s that. And then the other thing is, committee members are often required to take DEI training which offers a one-sided account of these issues and presents a certain ideological view. So before you can be on the committee you have to take this training saying, “This is how the university views these issues.” And how the university views these issues is often not in a colorblind sort of manner.

Jim: Okay. The other thing I’ve read about, I don’t know if it’s the case in Chicago, is that many universities are requiring applicants for faculty and even graduate and post-doc positions to file so-called diversity statements as part of their application. And reading someplace 75% of applications can … Are being rejected. At least some institutions do the not bending the knee sufficiently to the orthodoxy of DEI.

Dorian: So this is … One of the most outrageous things that’s happening around this whole issue is that a lot of institutions … In fact, as I understand it, it’s now the majority. The University of Chicago is one of the rare institutions that’s not doing this. Are requiring DEI statements as part of their application package for faculty positions. In the evaluation rubrics for these, it’s made clear that it’s not sufficient to say that you treat everyone equally. You have to say that you treat different groups differently. So in other words, there’s a political test, a moral or political test, that’s being applied and if you don’t give the right answer your application is thrown out. So it’s a loyalty test to this ideology in order to even join the university. And so what’s happening is dissenting scholars are being forbidden from dissenting by not even allowing them to join the community before they even have a chance to dissent.

Jim: That’s just wild. And what I love about that in terms of its irony is that if Martin Luther King had applied to be a member of the faculty of theology say at some college that had this statement he would’ve been rejected.

Dorian: And that’s not an accident. So a lot of the people leading this movement like Ibram Kendi, they explicitly reject Martin Luther King’s visit … Vision. That’s not an accident.

Jim: Absolutely. And the idea that the goal is the original liberal universal humanist statement of beliefs of the American founding is now being rejected by these radicals. But let’s be fair, America was hypocritic, right. There was slavery, there was Jim Crow, there was male supremacy for a long time, but the stirring words of Jefferson everyone’s created equal with unalienable rights has gradually, and through hard work, and blood, sweat, and tears of lots of people become more and more true over time. It’s just astounding that there are people that want to not continue that mission to perfect the universal humanist liberalism, but instead want to retreat to essentially Middle Eastern style tribalism.

Dorian: So I mean, if you think that that’s a good idea then look at what’s happening in Lebanon.

Jim: I use that example all the time. Where in Lebanon their jobs are kept for different ethnic groups and religious groups et cetera, and what do we got but a failed state, constant civil war, mass murder, and horrificness.

Dorian: Lebanon’s not an isolated example. The historical examples for this are plenty. But what’s important to realize about this is, exactly as you said, I think the correct vision of America is that there are these ideals that were specified and that we are trying to live up to, and that we’ve been struggling to live up to for 250 years. And there have been certain very important figures like Martin Luther King who pointed out that you’re not living up to those ideals and here’s what you should do in order to live up to them better. And we’ve slowly, slowly marched through that.

Dorian: Other important figures are famous such as Abraham Lincoln, and not famous such as the 355,000 white soldiers who died to end slavery in the Civil War, who marched down singing as he died to make men holy let us die to make men free so this has been a long struggle. But the critique that’s happening is basically saying that that whole thing is fui and it’s all cover for a systemically racist and terrible system, and we have to reject those ideas completely and go to an ethnic-based quota system for doing everything. And so I think we need to understand that that’s a fundamental critique of Americanism and it’s very, very dangerous.

Jim: And it’s dangerous in a way that I suspect that the proponents don’t even understand. I’ve read DiAngelo and Kendi and some of those other folks, and I had this insight. I said, “Damn it, do these people realize that if everyone took their rhetoric seriously what the answer would be? It would be a dictatorship of white supremacy, right.” If everything is about power, and everything is about racial identity, and that it’s appropriate to fight for power based on these divisions, then why shouldn’t the white majority impose a white supremacist dictatorship? That’s the logic of Kendi essentially.

Dorian: So what’s happening … There’s an internal incoherence in the ideology and that’s what you’ve pointed out. That without a moral framework … If you remove the moral framework and you based everything on power, then the results would … Which is what’s being advocated, then the results would be the opposite of the stated desired goal.

Jim: Indeed. And they don’t see that. They don’t realize you take their logic to its logical conclusion then every ethnic tribe, including the whites, should use absolute power, no holds barred, riding in the streets, guns, whatever it takes to seize power. And now we’re back to Lebanon or Somalia or some of these other places where tribalism is the ruling value rather than this amazing experiment in universal liberal humanism, which … And that’s what people forget. They say, “Well if you don’t buy the DEI then you must be a supporter of the Nazis marching in Charlottesville.” And I go, “No, the Nazis marching in Charlottesville are also vile ass clowns of the worst sort. I reject them totally.” There is this traditional enlightenment liberal view and that’s the right alternative.

Dorian: I mean … I think you’ve stated that very well. I don’t have anything to add.

Jim: Cool. Well, let’s go on to were proposed framework. Let’s get into a little detail on some of the interesting things that you include in your idea of merit, fairness, and equality, MFE, counter to DEI. Although I also like to change the order of DEI to DIE to give a sense of what will happen to our society if we adopted. I encourage everybody that’s listening, in writing at least, to change DEI to DIE. But let’s hear about MFE as an alternative.

Dorian: So we wanted it to be positive. We didn’t want to just criticize we wanted to propose an alternative that would address these concerns but do it in a moral and ethical way. And so it’s important to remember that we value diversity just like the people proposing DEI, but we want to do it in a way that doesn’t involve discrimination against certain groups of people, most notably in recent times that’s been Asians who have been suffering from these DEI programs. And so our goal is to make an admissions and hiring regime that’s focused on merit. That’s focused on giving everyone a fair and equal opportunity. In that article it’s short. We just sketch out the dream, and everyone should feel free to try to, using those goals, develop their own system. But some of the things that we mentioned were, of course, stopping having preferences based on immutable characteristics. But also, legacy and athletic scholarships and admissions, which go predominantly to white candidates, we recommended stopping those.

Dorian: And since we agree that diversity is a relevant thing that universities should think about, we said that the way that they should do this is by investing in education. And so investing in research into educational method for K12 that will improve outcomes, particularly in traditionally underserved areas, but also even just investing in their local areas, particularly in places like the University of Chicago that are surrounded by underserved … Educationally underserved areas. And so one way you could state that is that we want a fundamental focus on K12 education, not on late-stage discrimination. And so that’s sort of what we’re proposing. Doing things the right way. Taking the criticism seriously but addressing them in the right way.

Jim: I think those are really good. And I really like showing that you’re principled, right. That we should rid of legacies and athletic scholarships as well. I will say MIT has neither. Never had athletic scholarships. And quite a long time ago they got rid of legacy admissions as well. But most universities still have both. And getting rid of those would move much more to a true merit-based approach for admissions.

Dorian: I think so. I mean, we’re trying to produce universities … We should talk for a moment about the goal of a university.

Jim: Let’s go … Go with it. What is the fundamentals of what a university is for?

Dorian: So the most important goal of a university is the production of human knowledge. The expansion of our knowledge base, the pursuit of truth. You can state this in different ways. But the idea of what we’re doing is we’re doing research in order to improve human knowledge. The secondary goal is training young people both so that they can continue this pursuit of knowledge and also so that they can go out into society and benefit society. So these goals have a huge benefit for society. And the university has been corded off to allow that. In other context, you may have limits on various types of thought. I don’t know. I mean, maybe if you’re … I can’t speak to how other organizations should work, but the university has to be an organization where unfettered freedom of thought is allowed and no one is restricted in any way in order to achieve those goals.

Jim: In the business world, of course, we don’t allow free speech, we’re only interested in free speech internally that has to do with making money, right, so that’s not our goal. We’re not necessarily a … An engine for universal learning, but that’s the whole point of the university.

Dorian: That’s exactly right. And so in the business world … I mean, it’s actually interesting. There are some businesses which claim to be operating on a university model. And so Google would be you an example. They say, “Oh, we want our employees to pursue things freely,” but when they do they sack them.

Jim: They fire them, right. The hypocrisy is terrible.

Dorian: They’re thinking out of both sides of their mouth. But at the university, we need … Universities, in general, we need to make sure that never happens. We need to push back against these idea.

Jim: So talk about pushing back. What are some things that you are working on and that others of us can do to help the fight for liberalism? For human universal liberalism?

Dorian: Well, so what I’m doing is talking to you and other people on podcasts, and radio, and television, and just spreading the message to the public that we’re having a crisis on campus. It’s getting in the way of our ability to produce human knowledge. And that’s something the public should be aware of and try to do something about. What I tell to people in the everyday world, there are two things that you can do as an alumnus or an alumna you can call up your alma mater and can say, “These are things I care about.” Now that could happen individually. You could … When they call you for a donation you can say, “Well, I’ll think about it next year if you adopt the Chicago Principles.” That can happen as a group. You can found a group that can lobby the institution and the board of trustees to ensure academic freedom.

Dorian: The other thing you can do is you can tell your lawmaker, this is something I care about. So you can say, “Let’s try to address this potentially through the law.” And so one idea I have … I’m not a lawmaker or a lawyer is, we have Title IX and Title VI, which are conditions for federal funding that ensure that a university does not discriminate on the basis of sex or on the basis of race. So you could have other titles that are conditions for federal funding that ensure that the university ensures a institutionally, politically, and socially neutral environment and academic freedom ala the Chicago Principles.

Dorian: And so we could have … In order to ensure that the universities are enforcing these, we could have departments within the university just like we have a Title IX department that makes sure that we’re satisfying the law on this. So that’s one potential option but, of course, lawmakers could discuss this better. But since most of the funding at universities, certainly for the research but also for the basic functioning of the university through federal grants to students, grants and loans is coming from the public. The public should exert its voice on this and say, “We want our students to be trained in an on ideological way. We want our science to be free from ideology, and we want our scientists to be chosen based on merit not based on individual … Based on group characteristics.”

Jim: Very well said. A group of alumni at MIT have actually been catalyzed by the Abbot affair as we talk about, and we have started something called the MIT Free Speech Alliance. And again, our view is to be nonpartisan, balanced, opposed, cancel culture from both the right and the left. We could soon have a website up. But the first thing we did is put up a petition that got launched this morning. We talk about … We quote the president of MIT and his response to the Abbot affair where he says, “Freedom of expression is a fundamental value of the institute. I believe that is an institution of high learning. We must ensure the different points of view, even views that some or all of us may reject are allowed to be heard and debated at MIT. Open dialogue is how we make each other wiser and smarter.” And yet they stuck by their guns.

Jim: And so in this petition, the Alliance for Free Speech is calling for MIT to do the following things. Clearly and publicly state without qualification that canceling Professor Abbots Carlson lecture was counter to MIT’s values of free speech and expression. As I said earlier, every institution makes mistakes but this is an opportunity for MIT to realize it made a mistake, say it made a mistake, communicate to the organization that this was unacceptable action. Number two, reschedule Professor Abbots Carlson lecture for the general public as soon as possible. To my mind, that’s the obvious answer of restorative justice to make you whole. I mean, you were harmed by this. You spent a lot of time working on this lecture. By the way, my wife and I did watch the Zoom of the lecture that was put on by Princeton by Professor George and it was very interesting, and it had to have been a lot of work to have put that together and you should have the opportunity to present that to a live audience of MIT-affiliated people.

Dorian: I’d love to. I’d love to do that.

Jim: MIT re-invite Professor Abbot. Number three. Formally adopt the University of Chicago principles or the equivalent. And then this is to your point, essentially building a counter bureaucracy. Annually reaffirm in writing to faculty, administrators, staff, and students MIT’s commitment to freedom of speech, and expression, and open inquiry. It’s importance for any educational research and research enterprise and especially MIT which aspires to the highest standards of academic excellence. The link to this petition will be on our episode page at So if you agree with Dorian and me … I’ll go on the record and say, “I absolutely support where Dorian’s coming from.” Check out that petition and sign it and share with your friends.

Dorian: And so the only thing I would add to that if you want is this Kalven Report of institutional political neutrality. And I have an op-ed coming out in Newsweek today with Yvonne Marinovic again and with Sergiu Klainerman from Princeton where we make that argument. So anyone can find that op-ed in Newsweek and see why we think it’s important that institutions maintain social and political neutrality.

Jim: That’s another very interesting front. Please send me that link and we’ll include it on the episode page at

Dorian: Definitely.

Jim: Finally, before we end here, you’ve given some thought to taking your learnings and experiences from this and starting a center for a free society at the University of Chicago. Could you tell us just a little bit about what your thinking is and where that might go? We all need to have dreams, right.

Dorian: So we’ve identified an issue and one way to address it is for alumni to speak up, and thank you for what you’re doing in that way. Another way is for faculty to try to demonstrate to the students the right way to approach these issues. So just to give you an example. I sometimes work on climate science and we have a lot of people in my department who do. And there was a scientist who was not in favor of the sort of consensus view of climate and this was about 10 years ago. I invited her to give a department seminar in our department and so she was able to give her point of view, and everyone was able to hear it and have a rational debate on it rather than trying to exclude people you disagree with.

Dorian: And so the idea of this center for a free society is to continue to do that sort of thing. And so we would have four speakers a year on important public topics that could take any position, even positions that the vast majority of people on campus would disagree with, and we would invite them. We would have them come give a seminar. The seminar would be broadcast on YouTube so the public could see it. And we would also have podcasts where undergraduates would interview these distinguished speakers. And we would put all that out to the public. And then we would expose all the students to alternative viewpoints, which I think is really important because part of what seems to be happening is some of these students have never heard the other side and the reasons that they think what they think. And so it’s what Jonathan Haidt calls a sort of an allergic reaction. It’s like a peanut allergy. If you’re not exposed to peanuts you get a … You can develop a peanut allergy. And so they can sort of have an anaphylactic fit if they’re exposed to the other side.

Dorian: And so we want to do a sort of exposure therapy. Give people the other arguments that they’re not hearing every day and help them to understand why other people think that way and maybe even change their mind. It’s important that sometimes people reserve the ability to change their mind. And then the second thing we want to do is host scholars, journalists, et cetera, who have sort of suffered from one of these attacks, and give them a place to regroup and to teach maybe a class at the university, and to discuss these issues openly, and to make sure that the university culture is aware of the impact of cancellations on free discourse.

Jim: Very good. I hope that dream of yours comes to reality, and if it does I’d like to invite you back on the show to tell us how it’s gone.

Dorian: That would be great. That would be super fun.

Jim: Well, Dorian, I want to thank you for a very stimulating and interesting conversation here.

Dorian: Thank you, Jim. It was really fun.