Phoebe Cohen is a geosciences professor and department chair at Williams College, has said “intellectual debate and rigor” are products of the white patriarchy.
Cohen was quoted by The New York Times Wednesday dismissing the idea that higher education should “serve as a bastion of unfettered speech.”
Her comments came in support of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s recent decision to disinvite Dorian Abbot, a star geology professor at the University of Chicago, to deliver a prestigious lecture in the fall amid outcry over his unrelated criticism of diversity programs.
- But Cohen wanted harsher “professional consequences” for Abbott, saying she disagreed with MIT’s offer to let him speak to its professors at a later date.
Robert van der Hilst, the head of MIT’s earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences department, defended canceling Abbot’s lecture as demanded by some MIT faculty, graduate students and other academics and commentators.
- “Besides freedom of speech, we have the freedom to pick the speaker who best fits our needs,” he told the Times’ Michael Powell. “Words matter and have consequences.”
A handful of academics, though, spoke out in defense of Abbot’s right to speak, along with some journalists, including dissident leftist Glenn Greenwald and progressive Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg.
- “MIT has behaved disgracefully in capitulating to a politically motivated campaign,” said Robert George, a political philosopher at Princeton University. “This is part of a larger trend of the politicization of science.”
Abbott, who is a white self-described political centrist, has publicly “asserted that [affirmative action and diversity] programs treat ‘people as members of a group rather than as individuals, repeating the mistake that made possible the atrocities of the 20th century,'” per the Times.
- “He said that he favored a diverse pool of applicants selected on merit.”
In response to his lecture being canceled, Abbot warned, “We’re not going to do the best science we can if we are constrained ideologically.”
- “There is no question that these controversies will have a negative impact on my scientific career,” he said. “But I don’t want to live in a country where instead of discussing something difficult we go and silence debate.”
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture last summer published a chart summing up the woke view that traditional American values — like hard work and rational thought — are problematic features of “[w]hite dominant culture, or whiteness.”
The museum later removed the chart and apologized, but, as The Economist detailed last month, wokeness has continued to spread from its incubators at humanities departments across the academy and the culture.
- The Economist defined the illiberal ideology as “a belief that any disparities between racial groups are evidence of structural racism; that the norms of free speech, individualism and universalism which pretend to be progressive are really camouflage for this discrimination; and that injustice will persist until systems of language and privilege are dismantled.”