Scientist in Tenure Fight With MIT Is Locked Out of his Lab

July 02, 2007

James L. Sherley, a stem-cell biologist who went on a 12-day hunger strike in February to protest his tenure denial at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reached the end of his term of employment at the institute on Saturday — and met the scheduled event with more protest.

After getting locked out of his laboratory this weekend, Mr. Sherley wrote an e-mail message to the institute’s president, Susan Hockfield, expressing concern about the strains of mouse and human stem cells under refrigeration in his lab. He also said he was concerned about the lab’s live mice, and about the possible biohazards of moving live cell cultures.

Mr. Sherley, who is black, has argued that his career at MIT was cut short because of his race. The university denies that allegation. It announced in February, days before Mr. Sherley began his hunger strike, that it would formally examine the career issues of minority faculty members.

On June 20, Douglas A. Lauffenburger, director of the biological-engineering division at MIT, wrote a letter to Mr. Sherley confirming that his appointment would end on June 30. In the letter, Mr. Lauffenburger noted that Mr. Sherley’s appointment had been extended three times, in part to give him time to move out of his lab. “You have not provided any information about the transition of your research,” Mr. Lauffenburger wrote.

In his letter to Ms. Hockfield, Mr. Sherley wrote that “the forced closure of my laboratory is an illegitimate injustice by your office” and said that the institute had not yet given him a “fair hearing” with regard to his complaints of discrimination. —John Gravois

Background article from The Chronicle: Professor at MIT Resigns, Criticizing Its Dealings With a Colleague Who Was Denied Tenure (6/5/2007)