Prof. Sherley Locked Out Of BE Laboratory After June 30 Deadline Passes

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: Due to an editing error, the July 6, 2007 news article on Professor James L. Sherley misstated the date of Sherley’s e-mail to President Susan Hockfield. The e-mail was dated July 5, not June 5.

James L. Sherley, the African American associate professor who went on a 12-day hunger strike in February to protest his tenure denial, met the end of his appointment last Saturday, June 30. Sherley, who worked for the Biological Engineering Department, faced locked doors when he attempted to work in his laboratory after June 30 in an effort to resist the deadline.

The Tech could not reach Sherley for comment, but according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sherley sent an e-mail soon after the deadline to President Susan Hockfield expressing concern over refrigerated strains of mouse and human stem cells and live mice in his laboratory.

Provost L. Rafael Reif said in an e-mail to The Tech that MIT offered services to assist Sherley with the transition of leaving, but “he chose not to avail himself of the assistance.”

Sherley told The Tech in May that the “June 30 date has no legitimacy,” because it was set before what he claimed were agreements made with MIT for an external review of his tenure case. These agreements were what caused him to end his hunger strike, Sherley said. MIT officials have said that the Institute made no agreements of this nature.

Yesterday, Sherley sent another e-mail to Hockfield expressing his “continuing disappointment” with the “dismissive” way MIT treats its minority faculty and their supporters. (The June 5 e-mail to Hockfield is available at

According to Sherley, MIT relocated his staff to inadequate offices that lack fire sprinklers and are located “nearly half a mile from their laboratory.”

Sherley also wrote in the e-mail that the MIT Environment, Health, and Safety Office, the group responsible for overseeing laboratory safety, disposed costly research supplies and thawed freezers containing “irreplaceable research materials generated over many years of research.”

The EHS decommissioned Sherley’s lab according to applicable laws and regulations, ensuring “the health and safety of the MIT community and the proper treatment of biological and other research material,” Reif said in his e-mail.

Peter C. Dedon, associate director of the BE Department, said that it was unfortunate Sherley had to be locked out of his laboratory but that it is “the way things are done.”

Sherley, in the e-mail sent to Hockfield yesterday, said MIT offered assistance to his staff in completing their research projects when it officially notified them on June 13 of its plan to close his laboratory. Douglas A. Lauffenburger, director of the BE Department, intervened by informing his staff that they would not be allowed to complete their research, Sherley said. Previously, Sherley charged Lauffenburger as a main factor in causing racial bias in his tenure case.

Sherley also informed Hockfield that Lauffenburger “was so aggressive in locking us out of our laboratory that he gave us no notice and locked out other BE professors and research staff who shared the same space as well.”

Dedon said that all transitional matters were in the hands of the upper administration and that the BE Department has only been a bystander since its decision not to forward Sherley’s tenure case two years ago.

“MIT has tried repeatedly to engage Dr. Sherley in a constructive dialogue to discuss his transition from MIT,” Reif said in his e-mail. “Unfortunately, we were unable to convince Dr. Sherley to participate in such discussions and have only received emails from him.”

Sherley’s National Institute of Health research grants were returned back to the NIH because there is no institution to transfer them to, Dedon said. Dedon said that he knows nothing about Sherley’s future plans.