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MIT professor vows hunger strike over tenure denial

BOSTON --A black professor at MIT has threatened to go on a hunger strike and "die defiantly" outside the provost's office if the university does not grant him tenure, which he said was denied because of racism.

For two years, stem cell scientist James L. Sherley has asked senior administrators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to overturn the decision by his department head not to put him forward for tenure. On Monday, he was told by provost L. Rafael Reif that the decision would stand, The Boston Globe reported.

"I will either see the provost resign and my hard-earned tenure granted at MIT, or I will die defiantly right outside his office," Sherley wrote in a letter he circulated this week among the MIT faculty.

Shirley said if MIT fails to take action, he'll start his hunger strike outside Reif's office on Feb. 5.

"This is the strength of my conviction that racism in (America) must end," Sherley wrote. "What better place to kill a small part of it than at a great institution like MIT."

Sherley, who is known for his controversial theories about stem cells, works with adult stem cells and opposes research using human embryonic stem cells because he believes it amounts to taking human life.

In September, he won a prestigious Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health. The $2.5 million grant is for scientists taking innovative approaches to biomedical problems.

MIT grants tenure to less than half of its junior professors. It has struggled to recruit non-Asian minority professors, who are scarce in most science and engineering programs.

In a statement, MIT told the Globe it can't comment on tenure decisions.

"MIT has a well-established procedure for reviewing and granting tenure to faculty," the statement said. "This process is thorough and extensive, and we are confident it was followed with integrity in this case."

In his letter, Sherley accused former MIT provost Robert A. Brown of making a racist remark that was reported to him by a colleague.

A spokesman for Brown, now president of Boston University, said the charges are completely untrue.

In an interview with the Globe, Sherley said he's been approached about other job opportunities. But he said MIT would not be forced to acknowledge racism if he left.

"I'm not doing this because I can't bear not to get tenure at MIT," he said. "The things that have happened are racism. I've lived with this for 48 years, and I just have to do something about it."

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