A top Berkeley physicist has abruptly resigned after claiming his colleagues refused to invite a geophysicist to deliver a lecture nixed by a rival school amid backlash over that scientist’s views on merit-based college admissions.
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 about college 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.
Romps said Abbot had accepted an invitation to speak at Berkeley in 2014, and carried out work that was of “interest to BASC.”
“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,” Romps said.
“In the ensuing discussion among the BASC faculty, it became unclear to me whether we could invite that scientist ever again, let alone now.”
Princeton University has agreed to remotely host Abbot’s lecture on Oct. 21 – and thousands have already registered to attend.
Romps suggested that excluding people from giving lectures because of their political or social views was harmful to scientific 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,” Romps said.
Romps said he’d hoped his faculty would agree that a person’s political or social opinions wouldn’t be held against them when selecting speakers for events.
“Unfortunately, it is unclear when or if we might reach an agreement on this point,” he said.
The physicist said he held his friends and colleagues in the “highest regard” but he never intended to lead an organization “that is political or even ambiguously so.”
Romps said he would stand down at the end of the year, or when a replacement was found. It wasn’t immediately clear if Romps was resigning from Berkeley altogether, or his role as director of BASC.
Berkeley didn’t immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment.
The saga involving Abbot erupted when he revealed in an op-ed on Bari Weiss’ Substack on Oct. 5 that MIT had canceled his Carlson Lecture, an annual public event hosted by the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.
Abbot and Stanford University professor Ivan Marinovic had recently argued in a Newsweek op-ed that current diversity efforts — known as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — at universities violated equal treatment.
Instead, they proposed a framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality where “university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone.”
Abbot had also posted a series of YouTube videos last year in which he denounced rioting that erupted in Chicago after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.
“A small group of ideologues mounted a Twitter campaign to cancel a distinguished science lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because they disagreed with some of the political positions the speaker had taken. And they were successful within eight days,” Abbot said.
An MIT spokesperson told The Post in a statement at the time that the public lecture wasn’t being held this year “at the discretion of the department.”
It added that Abbot was instead invited to present his scientific work on MIT’s campus solely to students and faculty instead of in a wider public forum.
“We felt that with the current distractions we would not be in a position to hold an effective outreach event,” Professor Robert van der Hilst, head of the MIT department, said in a statement.
“I made this decision at my discretion, after consulting with faculty and students in the department, and knowing that some might mistake it as an affront on academic freedom — a characterization I do not agree with.”