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MIT Technology Review

Professor Protests Tenure Decision

Associate professor James L. Sherley went on a 12-day hunger strike in February to protest the decision not to grant him tenure and to call attention to what he believes are racist motives behind it. Sherley, whose research in the Biological Engineering Division focuses on adult stem cells, was told in January 2005 that his case for tenure would not be advanced. An ad hoc faculty committee twice reviewed his formal grievance and found that the process in his tenure case was “adequate and fair,” according to Provost L. Rafael Reif, who decided in December 2006 not to overturn the decision. Less than half of MIT’s junior faculty members receive tenure.

Sherley began his hunger strike on February 5, calling for the tenure decision to be overturned, for MIT to acknowledge that race was a factor, and for Reif to resign (although he later said that Reif could be censured). He spent weekday mornings of his strike outside the offices of the provost and the president, where he gave talks on racism and diversity.

The week before Sherley began his hunger strike, Reif announced that a faculty committee would be formed “to undertake a comprehensive, rigorous and systematic study” of race at MIT. In a January 29 letter to the MIT faculty, which made clear that the Sherley tenure decision was final, Reif wrote, “President Hockfield and I are deeply committed to removing barriers that may exist for under-represented minority faculty members and to examining and assessing effects that race may play in the hiring, advancement and experience of under-represented minority faculty.”

On February 16, Sherley announced the end of his fast “in celebration of the attention that has been brought to bear on issues of equity, diversity, and justice at MIT and in higher education.”