MIT Stem Cell Research Professor Ends Hunger Strike, Still Seeks Tenure

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 19, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

MIT Stem Cell Research Professor Ends Hunger Strike, Still Seeks Tenure Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 19
, 2007

Boston, MA ( — A Massachusetts Institute of Technology stem cell researcher who has been denied tenure has ended his hunger strike. Dr. James L. Sherley, a black associate professor of biological engineering who opposes embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, says he is a victim of racism.

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

The hunger strike lasted for twelve days and ended Saturday at noon — without the hoped for results. However, Sherley said the attention he received for his efforts justified the strike.

Though he decided to end the strike, he posted comments on the MIT web site saying he still wants the administration to grant him tenure and to address his allegations of racism.

"Starting today, I will in fact break my 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," he wrote in a statement posted on the university’s Web site.

"Carefully modified from the original, my demands are still on the table. I urge the administration to act in good faith, to openly acknowledge and respond to the lines of communication and negotiation that have been in place for two weeks, and to find its way to meet these demands," Sherley’s statement said.

The university posted its response on the college’s web site and said it will "continue to work toward resolution of our differences with Professor Sherley."

"MIT is fully committed to addressing these issues," the MIT statement said of the allegations of racism.

According to a report in the Boston Globe, Sherley lost 20 pounds during the hunger strike that began February 5.

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.

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 –