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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, February 5, 2007
MIT professor starts hunger strike
African-American stem cell scientist James L. Sherley started a hunger strike this morning, demanding that MIT offer him tenure, begin to address racism and censure the provost for his role in his case.
"How can we accept that we have so many well-trained people and so few are tenured?" he asked a group of about 30 professors, former students, family and friends who gathered just outside the offices of MIT President Susan Hockfield and Provost L. Rafael Reif this morning. "What I have discussed here is that if you are African-American, part of a minority group, it is acceptable for you to have insufficient lab space ... and it is allowable for your accomplishments to be ignored."
MIT has said that a committee convened to review the tenure process for Sherley found that it was fair.
Supporters held signs and distributed fliers this morning listing his accomplishments and demanding "End racism at MIT."
Chancellor Phillip L. Clay called on the MIT community to respect Sherley's right to disagree publicly.
"We take seriously, and are gravely concerned by, Professor Sherley's intentions," he wrote in an email to students. "While we have encouraged him to seek other means to express his views, the Institute will respect his right, as a member of our community, to publicly express his disagreement in a manner that does not disrupt the work of the Institute or put others in the community at risk."
Noam Chomsky and 10 other MIT professors are asking for further examination of the situation.
Sherley, one of 28 black professor at the time of the tenure decision, has been battling the university for two years. MIT has said repeatedly the decision is final. Sherley has also been controversial because he opposes using embryonic stem cells in research, believing it takes human life; he works with adult stem cells only.
"One of the things we have to recognize in America is that when we
Chancellor Clay's email:
To MIT Students:
This morning, Professor James L. Sherley has begun a fast to express his disagreement with the decision not to promote him to tenure and with the outcome of his grievance process. Three reviews have concluded that the tenure process in his case was fair and proper and that there is no evidence that race influenced the process. The Provost has reviewed the history of the case in a recent letter to the faculty, which is available at
We take seriously, and are gravely concerned by, Professor Sherley's
I am writing to you for three reasons. First, I ask all of you to respect Professor Sherley's right to disagree publicly, regardless of your own views about the case. I also ask you to respect each other's views about the case. Respect for free expression is an important value in our community, and benefits all of us.
At the same time, I am aware that many members of our community do not
Finally, I urge you to consider our community values. We are committed to creating and sustaining a community that is diverse in many important ways: in race and ethnicity, in gender, and in economic, cultural, and national backgrounds. While we have much to celebrate in these domains, we must continue to explore how we can do better and how we can maintain an environment in which we can all thrive and in which we can take pride. Your efforts to advance diversity, in your student communities and in your relationships, are important contributions to our community.
Phillip L. Clay