The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Head of Berkeley Atmospheric Science Center Resigns Directorship to Protest Refusal to Invite Dorrian Abbot


From the New York Post (Emily Crane):

[Berkeley Prof.] David Romps said Monday he was stepping down as director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center (BASC) after claiming his faculty had refused his request to invite Dorian Abbot to speak on Berkeley's campus.

Abbot, an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, made headlines earlier this month when he slammed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for caving to cancel culture after a woke "Twitter mob" waged a war against him.

The geophysicist said MIT told him his lecture on climate and the potential for life on other planets was being canceled to "avoid controversy" after students and recent alumni came after him over recent arguments he'd made [criticizing race-based] admissions that were unrelated to his science lecture.

Angered by MIT's decision, Romps said in a lengthy Twitter thread that he asked Berkeley's faculty if they would allow Abbot to hold his lecture there instead.

Here is what appears to be that thread:

I am resigning as Director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center (BASC) @BerkeleyAtmo. To reduce the odds of being mischaracterized, I want to explain my decision here.

Last month, the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences @eapsMIT  canceled a science lecture because of the invited scientist's political views. That scientist does excellent work in areas of interest to BASC (he visited us at our invitation in 2014).

Therefore, I asked the BASC faculty if we might invite that scientist to speak to us in the coming months to hear the science talk he had prepared and, by extending the invitation now, reaffirm that BASC is a purely scientific organization, not a political one.

In the ensuing discussion among the BASC faculty, it became unclear to me whether we could invite that scientist ever again, let alone now.

I was hoping we could agree that BASC does not consider an individual's political or social opinions when selecting speakers for its events, except for cases in which the opinions give a reasonable expectation that members of our community would be treated with disrespect.

Unfortunately, it is unclear when or if we might reach agreement on this point.

The stated mission of BASC is to serve as "the hub for UC Berkeley's research on the science of the atmosphere, its interactions with Earth systems, and the future of Earth's climate."

I believe that mission has its greatest chance of success when the tent is made as big as possible, including with respect to ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, family status, and political ideas.

Excluding people because of their political and social views diminishes the pool of scientists with which members of BASC can interact and reduces the opportunities for learning and collaboration.

More broadly, such exclusion signals that some opinions—even well-intentioned ones—are forbidden, thereby increasing self-censorship, degrading public discourse, and contributing to our nation's political balkanization.

I hold BASC and its faculty—my friends and colleagues—in the highest regard, and so it has been a great honor to serve as BASC's director these past five years. But it was never my intention to lead an organization that is political or even ambiguously so.

Consequently, I am stepping down from the directorship at the end of this calendar year or when a replacement is ready, whichever is sooner.