Hunger-Striking Black Professor Receives Support from Project 21 Members
Black Activists Join Call for MIT to Answer Allegations of Scientific and Racial Bias Against Award-Winning Researcher
For Release: February 8, 2007
Contact: David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x11
As MIT Associate Professor James Sherley embarks on a hunger strike meant to bring attention to his tenure appeal at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, members of the Project 21 black leadership network are seeking answers the allegations of racial and professional discrimination experienced by Professor Sherley and speaking out on behalf of his right to academic freedom.
"A university should be a place where debate and scientific inquiry are encouraged -- not stifled. Furthermore, people should not be denied tenure because of their religious beliefs," said Project 21 member and professor Horace Cooper, a member of the faculty of the George Mason University School of Law. "The scientific community sorely needs to hear from outstanding academics like Professor Sherley."
First appointed in 1998, Professor Sherley is the first and only black faculty member of MIT's Division of Biological Engineering. An expert in stem cell research, he deviates from the beliefs of many of his colleagues because he believes embryonic stem cell research destroys human life. "It's very easy to... ignore our responsibility for responsible conduct in research," he told The Australian newspaper last year.
A recipient of a $2.5 million Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health in 2006, Professor Sherley is one of the first in his field to demonstrate the "immortal DNA strand" theory that shows adult stem cells to be less likely to mutate into debilitating tumors than their embryonic counterparts.
Professor Sherley says conflicts of interest and racial animosity led to the denial of his bid for tenure at MIT in 2004. As detailed in a letter drafted by noted leftist MIT professor Noam Chomsky and ten other faculty members, Professor Sherley's division head did not recuse himself from the tenure review process despite being married to a colleague critical of Professor Sherley's work. Additionally, this same division head reportedly told Professor Sherley that race was a factor in the decision against him. Recruited to bolster MIT's anemic number of minority faculty, Professor Sherley was also reportedly never told about this fact and later found he had less access to resources than other faculty.
Professor Sherley's MIT appointment officially expired on January 31. On February 5, he began a hunger strike. He has received offers from other institutions, but says is seeking the MIT reversal on principle. He told The Scientist magazine: "I will go as far as I can because [racial bias] is not just a problem at MIT."
"The behavior of the professorial elite at MIT seems to mimic those in the past who thought the world was flat and the Earth was the center of the universe," said Project 21 chairman Mychal Massie. "The fact that researchers at Harvard University and Wake Forest University are proving Professor Sherley's assertions about the desirability of adult stem cells only makes his case stronger. There seems to be an obvious bias against adult stem cell research in general and of researchers of faith specifically. MIT is unquestionably guilty of the suppression of academic inquiry, but perhaps also of religious bigotry and institutional prejudice against a person of color with a moral conscience."
Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x11 or Project21@nationalcenter.org, or visit Project 21's website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html.
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