Provost Reif's Response to Sherley — May 14, 2007
Dear Faculty Colleagues:
Many of you by now know that Professor James Sherley is continuing his opposition to the decisions and processes in his tenure case. Through recent broadly distributed emails, he has claimed the existence of agreements with MIT that do not in fact exist, and he has revealed that he has made no plans to leave MIT when his faculty appointment ends. I am writing to provide you an update on this situation, clarify issues raised in Professor Sherley's recent statements, and correct some of the mischaracterizations he has made about this matter.
Professor Sherley conducted a hunger strike for 12 days in February. On February 16, he and MIT, by prior agreement, exchanged respective statements that were then posted on the MIT website (http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/statements-sherley.html) and he ended his hunger strike.
I want to make it clear that MIT made no agreement with Professor Sherley other than to exchange and release these statements. There was no agreement to review his tenure case again, nor did MIT agree to conduct any further review of his allegations that had been considered in his grievance process. As I said in my letter to you prior to Professor Sherley's hunger strike, the action in his tenure case is final. MIT made no agreement to revisit that decision or extend his faculty appointment beyond June 30, 2007 in order to prompt Professor Sherley to end his protest. At the request of Professor Sherley's representative after February 16, Dean Robert Silbey explored whether there were any tenure options for Professor Sherley outside his own division (Biological Engineering), but no other option was found. Dean Magnanti and senior BE faculty have issued letters touching on the tenure considerations in Professor Sherley's case. (See http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/sherley/magnanti_sherley(3.8).pdf and http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/sherley/BE_sherley(3.30).pdf, respectively.) Professor Sherley also asserts that there was an agreement when he ended his hunger strike that I would not participate in future discussions with him, and he has steadfastly refused to accept any communication from me. There was no such agreement.
In MIT's statement on Feb. 16, MIT pledged to "continue to work toward resolution of our differences with Professor Sherley." Since then, we have tried repeatedly, through meetings, letters, and other communications, to follow through on that commitment by inviting Professor Sherley to participate in a professionally conducted mediation of all issues in dispute. While MIT's position is that the tenure decision is final and that there is no remaining opportunity for tenure at MIT, we have not sought to limit the matters that Professor Sherley could raise in mediation, including disputing that position of MIT. We have provided Professor Sherley and his representative a list of professional mediators and stated that we would consider suggestions for other professionals who have the appropriate training and experience to assist in a mediation process. Associate Provost Claude Canizares and Dean Silbey met with Professor Sherley's representative, and I personally sent four letters in March and April to Professor Sherley or his representative urging them to work with us in resolving our differences through mediation. Unfortunately, these efforts of inviting Professor Sherley to participate in a mediation with a professional mediator have not been successful so far.
Last January, I extended Professor Sherley's faculty appointment through June 30, 2007 to give him and the Institute ample time to develop transition plans that would provide for the continuity of his research and the well being of the staff in his lab. Given the lack of progress we have seen, and with June 30th fast approaching, we have urged Professor Sherley to join MIT in making appropriate transition plans for his departure from MIT after his appointment ends. As I have said before, Professor Sherley is a talented individual who has much to contribute to science and society, and we would like to help him move forward to the next stage of his career.
L. Rafael Reif
This letter is available at http://web.mit.edu/provost/letters/letter05142007.html.