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Excerpt from ‘A second plea ...’ — Jan. 29, 2007

Dear faculty, staff, students and friends at MIT and abroad: …

Statement of Protest Demands

On January 24, 2007, Provost Reif changed his plan to terminate my appointment on January 31, 2007. He extended it to June 30, 2007. However, he stated in his letter, “This extension provides ample time to develop and implement a transition from MIT that allows you to continue to advance your professional career and provides an appropriate transition for those who currently work in your lab.”

Thus, he continues to obstruct my right to a fair and just hearing of my complaint that my tenure case was unfairly decided because of racial discrimination, conflict of interest, and improper actions on the part of members of the MIT faculty and the MIT Corporation.

The explanation for Provost Reif’s persistent preemptory attitude that I should leave MIT before receiving a fair investigation will expose a rotten spot of racism in MIT’s internal institutional policies regarding the hire and tenure evaluation of minority faculty. I hope that the honest and just among you will seek an explanation. The complaint itself delineates the racist practices of members of the BE faculty, in particular its head Professor Douglas Lauffenburger.

At my request, I met with Associate Provost Claude Canizares and my MIT advocate, Prof. Kenneth Manning, on the afternoon of January 24, 2007 to share my protest demands and their basis. These demands are:

1. Professor Sherley must receive an immediate grant of tenure as an admission that his tenure case was unfairly reviewed and decided and that his formal complaint against the negative decision was unfairly handled.

2. MIT must acknowledge the racism discovered in Professor Sherley’s treatment as a faculty member in Biological Engineering (BE) on the part of Provost Robert Brown, Professor Douglas Lauffenburger the head of BE, and other identifiable faculty members (e.g., Professor Steven Tannenbaum). MIT must acknowledge that Professor Sherley’s experience is not an isolated one. MIT must announce an immediate commitment of resources, faculty effort, and administration effort to develop new effective policies for eliminating racism at MIT, with special attention to institutional and individual racist practices that constitute unfair barriers to recruitment and tenure of minority faculty.

3. MIT must obtain the resignation of Provost Rafael Reif because of his demonstrated obstruction of the formal grievance proceeding that addressed Professor Sherley’s complaint. …

Evidence of Provost Rafael Reif’s Obstruction of the Tenure Decision Complaint

In my previous two open letters, I have spoken to Provost Reif’s action to obstruct my complaint of an unfair negative decision by Prof. Douglas Lauffenburger based on racism, conflict of interest, and the impact of the improper action of Susan Whitehead, a lifetime member of the MIT Corporation and the chair of the BE Visiting Committee. In addition, the failure of Provost Robert Brown to disclose his close personal relationship with Professor Lauffenburger and his spouse Professor Linda Griffith completely invalidated the investigation of my complaint before Provost Reif took over.

However, Provost Reif’s adjudication is also devoid of integrity. Provost Reif’s own words written in his final decision letter sent to me on December 22, 2006 clearly demonstrate his obstruction of my complaint. What shall we say about a Provost who responded in the following manner to the charge that the BE faculty provided an advisory tenure vote to the head of BE, Prof. Douglas Lauffenburger, when they were not themselves familiar with the tenure case?…

Finally, what shall we in the MIT community and abroad say about a Provost who wrote the following response to the charge of racism in MIT’s tenure promotion process, but decided to ignore the importance of the report that provoked it?

“12. Although one personal opinion differed, the Committee found strong evidence that racial prejudice did not affect the evaluations of your tenure case among the BE faculty, and found no evidence (as opposed to that opinion) to the contrary.”

Thus, the Provost chooses to ignore the significance of an independent report that racism played a role in my tenure review in BE at MIT. In the McBay report of 1986, MIT learned that the voices who were willing to accept the risks of speaking out against racism would be few and suppressed. This important lesson has been forgotten. I am one who has decided to take up Shirley McBay’s clarion call to end racism at MIT. I hope that you will join me in the struggle.

Yours sincerely,

James Sherley