Polarization in moral and political debates, and an accompanying lack of tolerance for opposing views, is a troubling feature of contemporary US society, including on college campuses. We seek to remedy this problem on our campus with a Civil Discourse speaker series, associated student activities, and a podcast.
Free speech has recently become a hotly debated campus topic at MIT, in part due to the cancellation last year of the geophysicist Dorian Abbot’s Carlson Lecture. The lecture, which was on climate science, was canceled because of Abbot’s negative opinions expressed in a Newsweek article about “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” initiatives at universities. This immediately became an international news story, generating lots of (mostly negative) publicity for MIT. The cancellation was not characteristic of the Institute, which sheltered the US’s most famous political dissident—Noam Chomsky—for almost all of his career.
The Abbot affair and its aftermath make the MIT campus an ideal site for our proposed project, which will include a speaker series (eight events), corresponding curricular activities for students, and a podcast series. Our main desired impact is a detectable positive change in community-wide practices and attitudes about controversy and disagreement.