MIT Professor Frank L. Douglas resigned Friday, saying that the Institute breached an agreement to continue discussions with Professor James L. Sherley regarding his claims of racial discrimination in the tenure process.
The MIT administration has said, in a statement provided by the MIT News Office, that it believes Douglas is basing his decision on inaccurate information and that they hope "once the facts are clarified, he will reconsider his decision."
Sherley, an African American associate professor in the Biological Engineering Department went on a 12-day hunger strike in February, alleging that racism played a role in the decision to deny him tenure two years ago. Sherley said that he agreed to end his hunger strike in exchange for an external review of his tenure process, a review that has not happened. MIT has said that an external review was never agreed upon and is insisting that Sherley leave the Institute by June 30.
Douglas, executive director for the MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation, said in a statement released to The Tech that the issue for him is not whether Sherley should be given immediate tenure or whether he is correct in his allegations of racism but that it is an issue of "process and environment."
In the statement, Douglas said that "as a human being and a minority," it is difficult for him to accept an environment where the Institute is unable to find a mutually acceptable solution for a problem that "potentially can impact every present and future minority faculty member."
Douglas' and MIT's full statements are available on page 17.
"I leave because I would neither be able to advise young Blacks about their prospects of flourishing in the current environment, nor about avenues available to affect [sic] change when agreements or promises are transgressed," Douglas stated in a June 1 e-mail which announced his resignation.
Douglas declined to be interviewed further.
In an e-mail to The Tech, Claude R. Canizares, associate provost and vice president for research, wrote "MIT made no agreement with Professor Sherley other than what was in the February 16 statement." He said that Sherley chose to end his hunger strike based on a Feb. 16 exchange of statements between Sherley and MIT and that no negotiation between the parties regarding the statements took place.
"I can state categorically that MIT did not agree, implicitly or explicitly, to arbitration or to extend Professor Sherley's faculty appointment beyond June 30, as some have implied," Canizares continued.
The MIT statement from Feb. 16 stated that MIT was fully committed to addressing the issues Sherley's protest had brought up — the effects race may play in the hiring and advancement of minority faculty and the fairness of the grievance process — and that MIT "will continue to work toward resolution of our differences with Professor Sherley."
The statements exchanged between MIT and Sherley on Feb. 16 are available at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/statements-sherley.html.
In an e-mail correspondence between Douglas and Canizares obtained by The Tech (see http://www-tech.mit.edu/V127/N27/douglas/canizares.html for the full text) after Douglas announced his intention to resign, Douglas said that there was a misinterpretation on the part of MIT, because the hunger strike could not have ended based on that understanding.
"Does the institution really believe that Prof Sherley would have ended his hunger strike if he really understood that continue(ing) [sic] to work towards resolution of differences' meant no arbitration process and a pre-agreement that he should leave regardless of the outcome of 'the resolution of those differences.'?" Douglas wrote in that e-mail.
Sherley, in an interview, said that he felt it was "unforgivable" that the MIT administration would question whether or not Douglas was acting on accurate information. "The information he is acting on is their public statements."
"The way that Professor Douglas is being regarded by the administration speaks to the larger problem of treating African Americans and other minorities differently," Sherley said.
Sherley said he had learned about Douglas' plan to leave MIT only after he had announced it in his June 1 e-mail.
Douglas stated in the June 1 e-mail that he would be leaving on June 30 and hoped to work with Canizares and CBI Co-Director Professor Anthony J. Sinskey toward ensuring a smooth leadership transition for the Center.
MIT, in its statement, describes Douglas as a "valued member of the MIT community" and a "visionary leader of the CBI," and that MIT "deeply regrets" his intention to leave.
Douglas received his undergraduate degree from Lehigh University, an MS and PhD in physical chemistry from Cornell University, and an MD from Cornell University Medical College. According to a Sloan School newsroom article, Douglas was an executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Aventis SA, a pharmaceutical company, before joining MIT.
Douglas, who has earned international recognition as a leader in innovation in pharmaceutical research and development, according to the Sloan article, was chosen to lead the CBI in 2005 when the program was launched.
Sherley insists on external review
Sherley said that he feels the problem is no longer that he was denied tenure but that the MIT administration has not given him a fair evaluation of his complaint that his tenure case was decided unfairly. Sherley expressed that he would be satisfied with a decision made through external review. He said that the internal review process has been "rotten" and "corrupt."
Sherley said that discussions regarding an external review had been ongoing between his representatives and MIT but that MIT rejected the external judges that were selected.
"No arbitration has occurred or will occur over Professor Sherley's claims that he should be awarded tenure at MIT," Canizares said. "Arbitration means allowing a third party to decide a dispute. This would give an outside party the right to award tenure at MIT. Tenure is a matter solely for the MIT faculty to decide."
Canizares said that, prior to the hunger strike, the senior faculty of the BE Department decided not to put him forward for tenure and that an ad hoc committee investigating his allegations of bias and an additional review found no evidence to overturn the tenure decision. He continued by saying that MIT has repeatedly urged Sherley to engage with MIT in mediation to help both parties discuss their differences.
Both parties have said that, after the hunger strike ended, MIT inquired whether there were tenure opportunities for Sherley in other departments in the School of Engineering or School of Science. According to Canizares, no department would recommend him for tenure.