Sherley Seeks Tenure Process Review; MIT Police Posted at Lab

James L. Sherley, an African American associate professor in the Biological Engineering Department, said that he remains steadfast in staying at MIT until the Institute assesses the validity of his charges of discrimination in the tenure process. According to Sherley, the administration agreed to reassess problems in the tenure process through an external panel in exchange for Sherley ending his hunger strike. The Institute says that there is no agreement for external review of the tenure process.

Sherley, who is supposed to leave MIT on June 30, wrote in an e-mail to President Susan Hockfield on April 25 that he "will not leave MIT until MIT meets its publicly announced agreement to faithfully work toward a fair resolution."

Sherley told The Tech that the "June 30 date has no legitimacy" because it was set before the agreements that ended his hunger strike and leaves no time for a fair review of his tenure case.

According to Sherley, Provost L. Rafael Reif repeatedly sent letters in April reenforcing the June 30th deadline as the end of Sherley's appointment. The letters, according to Sherley, also stated that steps needed to be taken in the coming weeks for Sherley's departure from MIT, including providing notices to research sponsors and BE personnel.

Sherley, who refuses to communicate with the Provost, said that Reif has "a clear conflict of interest" because he was charged with mishandling the grievance process, and therefore should be exempt from handling the issue.

Reif wrote in an e-mail to The Tech, "As Provost with responsibility for faculty affairs, I have been leading the effort to resolve our differences with Professor Sherley. I have attempted in our communications to establish a constructive dialogue so that we can resolve our differences."

Tenure dispute

Sherley also wrote to Hockfield that MIT had agreed to either "develop an external decision process to decide whether or not my charge of unfair discrimination in the tenure decision and my charge of obstruction of the subsequent grievance were valid," or "tenure me directly, as an admission that my charges were valid."

According to Sherley, the deal to review the tenure and grievance process was made through his representatives, Professors Kenneth R. Manning and Munther A. Dahleh, but the "institution has done none of that," he said.

MIT chose to pursue the second option of tenuring him directly, said Sherley, assigning Dean of Science Robert J. Silbey the task of finding opportunities for tenure in other departments. Eventually, however, Sherley said he received word from Reif that there was no opportunity for him at MIT.

Provost Reif, however, wrote in an e-mail to The Tech that "there was no agreement between MIT and Professor Sherley" to externally review the grievance process or grant him tenure directly.

Reif also wrote that "the Provost's office would not grant tenure unilaterally," because "[t]here has been no tenure recommendation for Professor Sherley from any of MIT's departments or schools" and awarding tenure is a faculty decision that begins with "a faculty recommendation coming from a department or school."

According to Sherley, however, there is a precedent allowing tenure without faculty input under certain circumstances.

"I still feel as strongly about this issue as I did before," said Sherley, describing the resolution of his tenure case. As for the possibility of a future hunger strike, Sherley said that he had "not ruled out that possibility."

Police presence

On May 8, Sherley informed members of the press via e-mail that police were stationed near his laboratory. "My understanding is that the surveillance is planned at least until June 30," Sherley wrote in an e-mail to MIT's Chief of Police John DiFava.

According to Sherley, a police officer told him that members of the MIT administration wanted "to reduce anxiety among neighboring MIT laboratories" as the end of Sherley's appointment approaches.

Sergeant Joseph Amoroso of the MIT Police said that police do patrol the biological engineering area, but Sherley's laboratory is not under specific surveillance.

According to a statement by the MIT News Office, "The adjustment to campus police presence in the building containing Professor Sherley's lab is a routine step to ensure the comfort and safety of all MIT students, faculty, and staff. It is a misinterpretation to view this as police surveillance of Professor Sherley or his lab."

Biological engineering

On March 30, the Biological Engineering Department issued an e-mail delineating the reasons why Sherley's tenure case was handled "with the utmost fairness in a process with the greatest integrity, as free as humanly possible from bias and racism." It stated that Sherley's tenure case was judged solely "on the basis of facts and merits."

"Prof. Sherley's publication record, while only one factor in our decision, did not meet the standards required for tenure cases in BE," the e-mail stated.

"We don't tenure people for teaching at other institutions," said Professor Peter C. Dedon, associate director of the Biological Engineering Division. Only work performed at MIT is considered for tenure at MIT and most junior faculty do not have the prior experience Sherley attained at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, he said.

The BE letter also stated that much of Sherley's research funding was obtained from grants on which Professor Linda Griffith, whom Sherley charged as an impetus in the denial of his tenure, served as the principal investigator. The National Institutes of Health Directors' Pioneer Award was awarded to Sherley more than a year after the tenure decision, the letter stated.

The "numbers are wrong," Sherley said in reference to the number of publications the BE letter provided. He also said that the tenure process should consider research performed before coming to MIT.

Sherley said he considered the BE letter "irrelevant" and said that the department is "playing a quantitative game in a game that's not quantitative." The focus needs to be on how the tenure case and grievance processes were handled, he said.

He has done us "more harm than good in diversity," Dedon said, because the Sherley's case will affect how prospective minority students, faculty, and post doctorates perceive the department.