10 January 2007

That's not something you see every day

BE Professor Threatens Hunger Strike to Protest Tenure Denial

By Joyce Kwan

An African-American associate professor has threatened to go on hunger
strike unless the provost resigns and his tenure is granted,
protesting what he claims were racist motives behind the denial of his
tenure. The Department of Biological Engineering decided not to
advance BE Associate Professor James L. Sherley.s case for tenure on
Dec. 13, 2004. Since then, Sherley has asked senior administrators to
overturn his department’s decision.


In a December letter sent out to MIT faculty calling for support,
Sherley said, “I will either see the Provost resign and my hard-earned
tenure granted at MIT, or I will die defiantly right outside his
office. This is the strength of my conviction that racism in American
[sic] must end. What better place to kill a small part of it than at a
great institution like MIT.”

There’s no doubt that the tenure process needs reform. That the
current system makes it very difficult to have women to have both
children and a high-powered academic career is beyond dispute. The
left decries the lack of minority professors at top schools and cries
racism. The right regularly blasts “tenured radicals” and demands
limited-term contracts for faculty. (A small number of (usually
obscure) schools have even tried this.) I have my doubts that
Prof. Sherley’s tactic will work, but I’m also surprised that more of
the media haven’t picked up on this.

Incidentally, if you read magazines like First Things or The
Weekly Standard
and see references to an MIT professor who bashes
embryonic-stem cell research and flogs adult stem cells, it’s often
Prof. Sherley. See, for instance,
this and
both by my former college classmate Ryan Anderson.

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