This is what cancellation amok looks like

What recently happened at MIT with a disinvited/”canceled” speaker is truly appalling.  Yashca Mounk argues that this case is “different” but what I find concerning is that it’s not quite “different” enough.  Somehow we’ve reached the point where being against the woke campus consensus on DEI is, in and of itself, cancelable, even though the woke consensus on campus is far from a majority American political opinion.  Mounk:

Dorian abbot is a geophysicist at the University of Chicago. In recognition of his research on climate change, MIT invited him to deliver the John Carlson Lecture, which takes place every year at a large venue in the Boston area and is meant to “communicate exciting new results in climate science to the general public.”

But there is more to this story than meets the eye. For although most outlets have covered Abbot’s disinvitation as but the latest example of an illiberal culture on campus, it is qualitatively different from other recent instances in which invitations have been rescinded—and suggests that the scope of censorship is continuing to morph and expand.

Is abbot a climate-change denier? Or has he committed some terrible crime? No, he simply expressed his views about the way universities should admit students and hire faculty in the pages of a national magazine.

Back in August, Abbot and a colleague criticized affirmative action and other ways to give candidates for admission or employment a leg up on the basis of their ethnic or racial identity in Newsweek. In their place, Abbot advocated what he calls a Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) framework in which applicants would be “treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone.” This, Abbot emphasized, would also entail “an end to legacy and athletic admission advantages, which significantly favor white applicants.”

There are rational grounds for criticizing Abbot. In the conclusion to his piece, for example, he made an ill-advised comparison with 1930s Germany:

Ninety years ago Germany had the best universities in the world. Then an ideological regime obsessed with race came to power and drove many of the best scholars out, gutting the faculties and leading to sustained decay that German universities never fully recovered from. We should view this as a warning of the consequences of viewing group membership as more important than merit, and correct our course before it is too late.

Abbot seemingly meant to highlight the dangers of thinking about individuals primarily in terms of their ethnic identity. But any comparison between today’s practices on American college campuses and the genocidal policies of the Nazi regime is facile and incendiary.

Even so, it is patently absurd to cancel a lecture on climate change because of Abbot’s article in Newsweek. If every cringeworthy analogy to the Third Reich were grounds for canceling talks, hundreds of professors—and thousands of op-ed columnists—would no longer be welcome on campus.

Meanwhile, Abbot’s beliefs about affirmative action, right or wrong, are similar to those held by the majority of the American population. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, for example, 74 percent of Americans believe that, in making hiring decisions, companies and organizations should “only take qualifications into account, even if it results in less diversity”; just 24 percent agreed that they should “also take race and ethnicity into account in order to increase diversity.” Similarly, in a 2020 referendum on affirmative action, 57 percent of voters in California—a very liberal state that also happens to be majority minority—voted to uphold a ban on the practice.

And, yet, here we are.  The idea that somebody should not be able to speak on an area of expertise in their field simply because they think universities should not have affirmative action is nuts.  I happen to think there’s still a place for affirmative action in universities, but to think that arguing otherwise is beyond the pale is just completely inimical to a meaningful culture of free speech and free expression.  And damn is it concerning to see that kind of anti free speech view take hold in what should be bastions of free speech. 

We shouldn’t have to sneak CO2 monitors into schools!

Schools should absolutely positively be monitoring air quality in their classrooms.  It should not be on concerned and conscientious parents to have their kids smuggle in monitors.  Even if schools think its too expensive to monitor every classroom all the time, they can invest in just a few monitors and get a general sense and check for problem areas.  

Anyway, it was pretty cool to just open a story about this on the front of the NYT yesterday and discover that the parent they had spoke to as an example was Jeremy Chrysler, who I’ve made friends with on twitter due to very similar interests in air quality, mask quality, and rapid testing (and center-left politics to boot).  He had a great article on the history of getting air and disease transmission a while ago.  Anyway

When Lizzie Rothwell, an architect in Philadelphia, sent her son to third grade this fall, she stocked his blue L.L. Bean backpack with pencils, wide-ruled paper — and a portable carbon dioxide monitor.

The device gave her a quick way to assess how much fresh air was flowing through the school. Low levels of CO2 would indicate that it was well-ventilated, reducing her son’s odds of catching the coronavirus.

But she quickly discovered that during lunch, CO2 levels in the cafeteria rose to nearly double those recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She shared what she’d learned with the principal and asked if students could eat outside instead.

“He expressed surprise that I had any data at all,” she said.

Ms. Rothwell is one of a growing number of parents who are sneaking CO2 monitors into schools in a clandestine effort to make sure their children’s classrooms are safe.Aranet, which makes a monitor popular with parents, says orders have doubled since the new school year began…

Some parents have gotten results. When Jeremy Chrysler, of Conway, Ark., sent a monitor in with his 13-year-old daughter, this fall, the CO2 readings were a sky-high 4,000 p.p.m.

He brought his findings to district officials, who discovered that two components of the school’s HVAC system were not working properly. After the units were fixed, CO2 levels plummeted.

“What my measurements showed was, hey, measuring CO2 can identify problems and sometimes those problems are easy to fix,” he said…

“There are some success stories,” said Kimberly Prather, an atmospheric chemist at the University of California, San Diego. “Unfortunately I’ve heard more parents rejected.”

After Shanon Kerr, of Waterloo, Canada, found high CO2 levels in some of her daughter’s school spaces, she asked district officials to monitor indoor air quality throughout the building, even offering up her own CO2 monitor. “They’ve been very dismissive,” she said.

In an email to The Times, Loretta Notten, director of education of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, said that follow-up testing in the classrooms Ms. Kerr identified revealed that carbon dioxide levels “were within acceptable parameters.”

Air quality testing is done on an as-needed basis, she said: “The Board does not intend on performing ongoing monitoring of carbon dioxide.”

(Ms. Kerr has also run into resistance closer to home. Her daughter no longer wants to take the monitor to school. “I’ve been bribing her with KitKat chocolate bars but it’s not working anymore,” she said.)

Graham Freeman, the father of two boys in Santa Cruz, Calif., said his request to send CO2 monitors to school with his sons was denied.

I got my daughter to take my monitor to class last spring, but she’s refused so far this year– again, schools should be responsible for this! (Hopefully ES and LG will see to it that I get Kingswood Elementary readings).  

Mr. Chrysler, whose CO2 readings prompted his Arkansas district to repair its HVAC system, is now lobbying officials to buy air quality monitors for every classroom in the district.

Pointing to Belgium, which has mandated CO2 monitors in restaurants, gyms and other buildings, Dr. Jimenez said he would like all public indoor spaces to provide permanent real-time displays of the carbon dioxide levels: “This is something that we should do permanently in schools but also in all places where we share air.”

Surely, that school in Arkansas is not the only one that’s had dangerously high CO2.  It should not have to depend upon the actions of a single parent.  And tight budgets or not, every school can surely afford at least a handful of monitors.  We can and should do so much better on this.  

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