MIT to Conduct Study of Its Faculty Hiring Practices: Black Professor Ends Hunger Strike

The administration of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has agreed to make a formal inquiry into the hiring and promotion practices involving minority faculty members. The decision was announced just days before James L. Sherley, an African-American associate professor of biological engineering at MIT, began a hunger strike demanding that the university admit that racism played at least some role in the decision to deny him tenure. In February 2005 Sherley had been presented with MIT’s Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award for “his enthusiastic commitment to education and science and his exemplary work as a scientist, teacher and laboratory head who has fostered an inclusive and supportive environment.”

Professor Sherley ended his hunger strike late last week saying that he had successfully brought “attention to bear on issues of equity, diversity, and justice at MIT.”

Of the 998 full-time faculty members at MIT there are 188 women and 54 minorities. The latest JBHE survey on black faculty at the nation’s leading universities found that there were 28 blacks teaching at MIT making up 2.9 percent of the full-time faculty.