The Catholic Exchange, reporting on the hunger strike, mentions racism only as another reason, but one linked to his stance on stem cell research.
Sherley himself alleges that he was opposed for tenure at MIT by his colleagues in part because his research “poses an intellectually disruptive threat.” . . . the researcher also charged the university with racism, saying that his fellow researchers “might tolerate and even celebrate such a challenge from a white faculty member, but never from one who is black.”
Rush Limbaugh took up Sherley’s cause:
But here is the key to this: “Mr. Sherley, who is 49, works with adult stem cells. He opposes research using human embryonic stem cells because he believes it amounts to taking human life.” Now, is this the real racism?
Is he being denied tenure not because of his race, but because he’s on the politically incorrect side of an issue of science? If you want to know — if you had any doubts — that science has become as politicized as any other institution in America, you need look no further than this story. Here’s a guy who wants tenure. He thinks he’s not getting it because it’s race based. He’s simply on the wrong side of the stem cell issue! This is MIT. They’re not going to tenure a guy who doesn’t fall in line on this embryonic stem cell business. “In September, Mr. Sherley won a prestigious $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health,” but it means nothing. Now he’s on a starvation diet, simply because he hasn’t gotten tenure.
Nor has he shied from the topic. To some.
The website Pro-Life with Christ reports on an interview Dr. Sherley gave to Celebrate Life magazine.
Dr. James Sherley–recently denied tenure at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he says for his views on embryo research–accused some of his colleagues of deliberately misleading the public about the beginnings of human life in order to justify embryonic research. . . .
While Dr. Sherley said he initially attributed the MIT chair’s refusal to consider him for tenure to racism–Dr. Sherley is of African descent–suggestions by colleagues during the two-year investigation of his complaint pointed to his outspoken opposition to embryonic research as a major factor in the case.
And he has been vocal.
In criticizing Michael J. Fox for promoting stem cell research, Sherley said:
“Michael J. Fox doesn’t have all the information–he needs to make sure he gets the facts right. By criteria that scientists understand, a human embryo is alive. We all started out that way and it’s an insult to devalue someone based on his or her stage of life. It’s the same as saying that 50-year-olds are invalid.”
Should all this matter? Should it be included in reports of his strike?
I’d say no if he was consistent in saying that he thought the reason he was denied tenure was because of racism. But even he says otherwise when it suits his audience.
I am left wondering if the race card is being tossed because every sane person can side with him on that. But if it’s about a fundamental disagreement with MIT about the science, doesn’t the university have the right to deny tenure? Would anyone expect them to grant tenure to a professor in a science department who doesn’t believe in evolution but wants to teach creationism?
I’m not saying that opposing embryonic stem cell research is akin to opposing evolution. I think it’s a legitimate area of disagreement.
James Sherley: Despite the confusion that some like to create on the questions of “are embryos human beings?” and “when does a human life begin?”, both scientists and physicians know very well that human embryos are alive and human. A human life begins when a diploid complement of human DNA is initiated to begin human development. Therefore, a life can be initiated by the fusion of sperm and egg or by the introduction of a diploid nucleus into an enucleated egg (ie, “cloning”).
Given that embryos are human beings, they have a right to self and a right to life. Exploiting their parts (ie, cells) or killing them for research is moral trespass that society should not allow. Even if the research might, and let’s be clear, might benefit others, this trespass is not justified.
What I’m saying is that I’m not a scientist, nor do I work at a university, so I don’t know if professors with different positions could work together or should. I’m just asking.
And I’m not alone.
For an inside-MIT perspective, check out the Redstar Perspective blog:
But, there’s no doubt in my mind now that Sherley chose his battle cry very carefully, choosing to believe that racism was a broader catch-all for his grievances than the fact that his choose-life-oriented science was seen as a poor and distasteful fit in this aggressively-entrepreneurial science and engineering institution in which academics are expected not only to produce original, cutting-edge research, but also to grapple with the commercial (i.e., money-making) application of their work (with BE being one of the more commercially-oriented departments on campus). Stem cell research and MIT both sit at the nexus of the academic-industry boundary. It is no surprise that BE has no desire to play host to a researcher who discredits both this area of research and his colleagues who do this work; there is also a strong debate that his research is not up to snuff (my own research on his publication record demonstrates that it is well below the average pub rates of his peers, and this is one of the most durable metrics in tenure cases. Yes, his NIH award suggests otherwise.).
(I assume “BE” means his department, Biological Engineering.)