MIT Releases Data on Black Faculty: Yet an Important MIT Professor Resigns in Protest of the University’s Denying Tenure to James Sherley

In the spring issue of JBHE, we published a survey showing black faculty levels at the nation’s 25 highest-ranked universities and 25 highest-ranked liberal arts colleges. At the time that our survey was completed, the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were the only two institutions that declined to participate.

During the period when our survey was conducted, MIT was under close media scrutiny due to a hunger strike by a black faculty member, James L. Sherley, an associate professor of biological engineering who had been denied tenure. Sherley claims that he was denied tenure on account of his race. Professor Sherley has continued to fight for a fair hearing of his grievances, so far to no avail. Professor Sherley has vowed to stay at MIT past the June 30 date when the university has said it will close his laboratory.

Now MIT has agreed to furnish its faculty data to JBHE. The latest numbers show there are 32 black faculty members at MIT. They make up 3.2 percent of all full-time faculty at the university. Seventeen blacks at MIT have tenure. They are 2.3 percent of the tenured faculty.

The new data shows some improvement. In 2005 MIT reported to JBHE that it had 28 black faculty who made up 2.9 percent of all its full-time faculty.

Professor Sherley told JBHE that by releasing black faculty figures at this time, “President Susan Hockfield and Provost Rafael Reif are now trying to create the impression that they actually care about the abysmal, low numbers of tenured black faculty members at MIT.”

In another development, Frank L. Douglas, an African American who is executive director of the MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation, has resigned his post to protest the way Professor Sherley has been treated by the university. In an e-mail to the associate provost and vice president for research at MIT, Dr. Douglas wrote, “I have observed with consternation the inability of the institution to manage the James Sherley situation. Frankly, I am so astonished that the Institute did not resolve this issue that it leaves me to believe that the desire to do this was and is lacking. 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 change when agreements or promises are transgressed.”

Douglas, regarded as a leading innovator in pharmaceutical research, spent 22 years as an executive in the pharmaceutical industry before joining the academic world. A graduate of Lehigh University, he holds a medical doctorate and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Cornell University.