After 12 days of ingesting only water, vitamin supplements, and electrolytes, Associate Professor James L. Sherley of the biological engineering department ended his hunger strike last Friday, Feb. 16. Sherley, who is African American, went on a hunger strike to protest his tenure denial, which he claimed was tarnished by racial discrimination.
After ending his strike at noon on Friday, Sherley issued a public statement thanking his supporters and stating that he ended his strike in “celebration of the attention that has been brought to bear on issues of equity, diversity, and justice at MIT and in higher education.”
He also said in his statement that his “demands are still on the table.”
MIT issued a statement as well, acknowledging that Sherley’s “protest has focused attention on the effects that race may play in the hiring, advancement and experience of under-represented minority faculty.”
MIT stated that it “bears responsibility for ensuring an environment in which all members of our diverse community feel welcome and respected,” and that it “is fully committed” to ensure “comprehensive, fair and timely” grievance processes.
Last Thursday, Feb. 15, Sherley sent an e-mail to members of the MIT community urging them to boycott MIT’s Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration, which was to be held the next day, because of the “hypocrisy” of MIT’s senior officers.
In the e-mail, Sherley compared actions of President Susan Hockfield and Provost L. Rafael Reif to “the water hoses, dogs, and billy-clubs of the civil rights struggles.”
Sherley also stated in the e-mail that he “will not eat again until MIT’s upper administration either admits that racism and obstruction of justice was a problem in my case and others, or works with my advocates to develop a fair and open process to decide the issue.”
Chemistry Professor Keith A. Nelson sent an e-mail in response to Sherley’s e-mail. Nelson wrote that his own acquaintance with some of the people whom Sherley criticized “does not suggest to me that they are so uniformly, blatantly, and relentlessly dishonest or outright evil as you indicate.” Also, Nelson wrote, “however racist the motivations of our colleagues, any comparison between you and the victims of water hoses, dogs, and billy-clubs is sickening.”
According to Sherley in his e-mail calling for boycott of the MLK breakfast, “some of the faculty are considering other tenured homes for me at MIT besides BE.”
At the end of his public statement on Friday, Sherley urged MIT to “respond to the lines of communication and negotiation that have been in place for two weeks,” referring to the span of his hunger strike. MIT stated that it “will continue to work toward resolution of our differences with Professor Sherley.”
Complete statements from both Sherley and MIT are on page 19.