Persecuted MIT Stem Cell Research Professor Locked Out of Laboratory

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 3, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Persecuted MIT Stem Cell Research Professor Locked Out of Laboratory Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 3
, 2007

Boston, MA ( — A Massachusetts Institute of Technology stem cell researcher who has been denied tenure has now been locked out of his laboratory. Dr. James L. Sherley, a black associate professor of biological engineering who opposes embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, has said 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 hoped a hunger strike would change the minds of top school officials earlier this year but it didn’t.

Now the researcher, who saw his appointment at MIT end June 30, has been locked out of his lab on campus.

Sherley was unable to access the lab over the weekend to complete the transfer of his experiments and property to a new location.

According to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr. Sherly wrote an email to MIT President Susan Hockfield saying he is concerned about the live rats, animal stem cells and human adult stem cells at his lab that he had been using in research.

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” regarding his complaints of discrimination.

The publication said that Douglas Lauffenburger, who heads the biological-engineering division at MIT, wrote to Sherley on June 20 confirming he would need to leave by the June 30 expiration of his appointment.

In the letter, Lauffenburger complained that Sherley had not provided enough information to MIT officials about the transfer of his research and when he would vacate his laboratory.

Sherley’s hunger strike in February lasted for twelve days and ended 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.

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 at that time said of the allegations of racism.

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. He previously said Lauffenburger told him that he had strong recommendations letters for tenure but that he was denied it because of his views on stem cell research.