MIT Stem Cell Researcher Begins Hunger Strike Over Tenure Denial

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 6, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

MIT Stem Cell Researcher Begins Hunger Strike Over Tenure Denial Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 6
, 2007

Boston, MA ( — A Massachusetts Institute of Technology stem cell researcher who doesn’t support human cloning or embryonic stem cell research has begun a hunger strike over the college’s decision to deny him tenure. Dr. James L. Sherley, a black associate professor of biological engineering, says he is a victim of racism.

"I want to bring attention to racism," he said. "They need to fix the problem."

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.

Dr. Sherley threatened the hunger strike in December and said he would begin it in February and also protest outside Reif’s office.

Sherley stuck to his word and stood for several hours Tuesday morning outside the president’s office after starting his day with two bowls of cereal. About 25 friends and supporters joined him, according to the Boston Herald newspaper.

“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 in December.

According to the Herald, MIT says that less than half of its junior professors obtain tenure and Sherley’s colleagues in the university’s Biological Engineering Division wrote a letter saying the decision about his tenure was a "fair and honest" one.

"We state with certainty and a clear conscience that race did not play any role in the decision that resulted in Prof Sherley’s case not being taken forward," the letter said.

Sherley regards embryonic stem cell research as the taking of human life because days-old unborn children are destroyed in the process.

His adult stem cell research has been widely heralded and, in September, he won a prestigious Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health and a $2.5 million grant.

Sherley, the son of a Baptist minister, 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.

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 is frequently asked by MIT employees 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.

Related web sites:
Professor Sherley Protest Site –