The Massachusetts Institute of Technology invited the geophysicist Dorian Abbot to give a prestigious public lecture this autumn. He seemed a natural choice, a scientific star who studies climate change and whether planets in distant solar systems might harbor atmospheres conducive to life.
Then a swell of angry resistance arose. Some faculty members and graduate students argued that Dr. Abbot, a professor at the University of Chicago, had created harm by speaking out against aspects of affirmative action and diversity programs. In videos and opinion pieces, Dr. Abbot, who is white, has asserted that such programs treat “people as members of a group rather than as individuals, repeating the mistake that made possible the atrocities of the 20th century.” He said that he favored a diverse pool of applicants selected on merit.
He said that his planned lecture at M.I.T. would have made no mention of his views on affirmative action. But his opponents in the sciences argued he represented an “infuriating,” “inappropriate” and oppressive choice.
On Sept. 30, M.I.T. reversed course. The head of its earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences department called off Dr. Abbot’s lecture, to be delivered to professors, graduate students and the public, including some top Black and Latino high school students.