MIT Stem Cell Researcher Threatens Hunger Strike Over Tenure Denial

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 22, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

MIT Stem Cell Researcher Threatens Hunger Strike Over Tenure Denial Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 22
, 2006

Boston, MA ( — A black Massachusetts Institute of Technology stem cell researcher who doesn’t support human cloning says he is planning a hunger strike for next February if the prestigious college doesn’t reverse its decision to deny him tenure. Dr. James L. Sherley, an associate professor of biological engineering, says he is a victim of racism.

Sherley has been an outspoken advocate against human cloning — including the kind of therapeutic cloning his colleagues and other scientists want to use to create and destroy human embryos for their stem cells.

He has been fighting for tenure at MIT for over two years and hopes a hunger strike will change the minds of top school officials, including Provost L. Rafael Reif.

“I will either see the provost resign and my hard-earned tenure granted at MIT, or I will die defiantly right outside his office,” Sherley wrote in a strongly worded letter.

Sherley told the Boston Globe in January 2005 that fellow professors label him “stubborn” instead of “independent-minded" because he refuses to endorse human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.

In fact, Sherley, the son of a Baptist minister, is vocal in saying the practices involve the destruction of human life and shouldn’t be supported and he was once involved in a shouting match with a colleague at a local restaurant.

Sherley was hired in July 1998 as an assistant professor and later promoted to associate professor. But if he is not granted tenure he will have to leave MIT and seek employment elsewhere.

Sherley told the Globe that Douglas A. Lauffenburger, the director of the Biological Engineering division, told him that he had strong recommendations letters for tenure but that he was denied it because of his views on stem cell research.

The professor said he hasn’t been a victim of overt racism but said he is frequently asked whose research lab he works in when he has his own.

Reif ordered an investigation into Sherley’s case by three senior faculty members in late 2005. By January 2006, Reif concluded that there were no grounds to reconsider Sherley’s case for tenure.

This week, Sherley was told that the decision was to refuse him tenure.