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  • June 2007
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Blacks Deserve Special Privileges

A recent kerfluffel at MIT is making headlines.  It turns out that MIT had the audacity to deny tenure to a professor who happens to be black. The fact that MIT denied a professor tenure is nothing unusual – less than 50% of junior faculty at MIT get tenure, but because this guy was black, it is not so simple.

It turns out that the professor in question, one James Sherley, didn’t like the fact that he was denied tenure, so he wrote up a set of demands. According to the Washington Post, his demands included a tenured position, acknowledgement that racism affected his review and those of other faculty members, and the resignation of Provost. Imagine if a white (or Japanese or Indian or Chinese) professor had pulled the same stunt. They’d simply be laughed off campus.

MIT however decided to review Mr. Sherley’s tenure request again. And again. And again. After three reviews and three rejections, Mr. Sherley still insists that MIT did not properly address his complaints. I guess the only truly acceptable way to address his complaints would be to agree that he deserves tenure because he’s black. In a normal world, this would have been the end of the issue. Professors are denied tenure all the time, especially at top-notch schools like MIT. But MIT once again decided to grant a Special Black Privilege to Mr. Sherley. Instead of simply letting him go, MIT attempted to find a tenured position for him in another department. Not a single department or school within at MIT wanted him. The Provost addressing this issue gave the faculty of all schools and departments the opportunity to recommend that Mr. Sherley be granted tenure in their department, and not a single person came forward. This still wasn’t enough. MIT extended Mr. Sherley’s employment for 6 months. Mr. Sherley used that extra time not for research or a job search, but to continue to escalate his cry for special priviliges because he is black.

MIT bases its tenure decisions (in part) on publications written while at MIT, Grants secured while at MIT, and work done while at MIT. This is pretty standard for most universities. Work done prior to coming to a University is typically not considered – especially for Junior faculty. Prior work is typically only considered when a University is attempting to recruit an already-tenured professor from another University. Mr. Sherley apparently feels that some work that he did prior to coming to MIT should have been considered, and he felt that it was sufficient to warrant his being granted tenure. However, MIT has stated that his publication record was not sufficient to recieve tenure (as well as other factors). The publication record is a standard and easily quantifiable measure – publish or perish is a simple reality of the academic world. Mr Sherley also had a poor grant record – for most of his time at MIT he worked under Professor Linda Griffith, whom he claims was an impetus in blocking his tenure. So, even though he hasn’t met the publications requirement, the grant requirement, and the person that he worked with most closely is recommending he not be granted tenure (according to him), he still thinks he deserves tenure. Keep in mind that less than half of the junior faculty at MIT get tenure – this isn’t anything unusual.

But wait, it gets even crazier. When he couldn’t get tenure through the normal process, he went to he press. If he can’t earn his tenure, he’ll try to embarrass MIT into giving it to him. He went on a hunger strike. Honest. He couldn’t get the job he wanted, so he went on a hunger strike. He got a lot of press, and there was a lot of outcry from the usual black-privileges crowd, but MIT has stood firm. Things got pretty ugly (for academia). MIT was forced to increase the police patrols of the building Sherley worked – students and other faculty were worried that as the extra time Mr. Sherley was given ran out, he would cause problems. Now the MIT police regularly patrol all fo the buildings on campus, and they regularly modify their patrol schedules base don events that are taking place on campus. Of course, Mr. Sherley didn’t see things that way. He claims that he was placed “under surveillance”, and once again ran to the press to see what kind of stink he could raise. Think about it. You’ve got someone working for that has made it clear he will cause whatever trouble he can to get his way. You’ve been nice, and given him an extra six months to get his act together before you let him go. He responds by causing more trouble. Keep in mind that this guy has everything that is in a modern research lab at his disposal, and the knowledge and skills to use it to create all kinds of problems. Think about what a pissed biochemist could do if he really wanted to cause problems, and had a full research lab at his disposal. I don’t know about you, but my reaction would have been to escort him to the door and make it clear that he was not to return (I’ve had to do this in the corporate world where the risk was only financial).

So anyway, MIT caves yet again, and agrees to “continue to work towards a resolution of our differences with Professor Sherley”.  Sherley ends his hunger, but states that MIT has agreed to binding arbitration in resolving his tenure request. Fortunately, MIT continues to stand fast, and Sherley’s claims are exposed for the fraud they were. Time goes on, and Sherley realizes (or at least accepts) that simply being black isn’t going to be enough to get tenure. Sherley fades to the background, Life grinds on at MIT, and he is finally approaching the end of his time at MIT (His last day is June 30).  This should be the end of just another attempt by a black to play the race card in order to get something he hasn’t earned. but wait. there’s more.

As Sherley approaches his last days at MIT, another black scientist has stepped forward to show support for special black privileges. Apparently, Frank Douglas (A black who actually earned his tenure at MIT) is resigning. He claims the reason is the handling of the Sherley fiasco, but Mr. Douglas didn’t step forward to recomend Sherley for tenure when the Provost gave him the chance. I guess Mr. Douglas didn’t want Sherley in his department either. Douglas won’t have any problems finding another job – he has a prominent background in the pharmaceutical industry, but one has to wonder what will happen to Sherley. In his attempts to weasel Tenure out of MIT, he has hopelessly besmirched his academic reputation. He is not some super-genius scientist that will get snatched up by another University right away. He is a mediocre reseracher that couldn’t cut the mustard at a top-notch school. He would probably have been fine (and tenured) at a less prestigious school, but who would hire him now? He has demonstrated that he believes being black should grant him special consideration, and if it doesn’t, he’ll throw a major tantrum. There are ton of other researchers of his calibre out there that are willing to actually earn their credentials, that can work well if they don’t get what they want, and that can (and will) do the same work that Sherley does. If you had a choice of hiring a known rabble-rousing black supremacist or an equivalent scientist (blue, black, white, or purple) that simply did his job, accepted setbacks, and plugged along, which one would you hire?

I applaud MIT for standing fast on refusing to buckle to Sherley’s demand for special black treatment.  As for Mr. Douglas, I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he really has other reasons for leaving MIT, and that this is simply a minor publicity stunt on his part. Mr. Sherley, well, maybe he’ll land a job at a college where being black is more important than what you actually do.


3 Responses

  1. http://pressposts.com/Politics/Blacks-Deserve-Special-Privileges/

    Submited post on PressPosts.com – “Blacks Deserve Special Privileges”

  2. Personally I think all tenure should be abolished. It rewards failure and encourages complacency. However, this fellow is what racism is all about. He wants to be judged by his skin, which is exactly what the civil rights movement fought against. The problem is guilty white liberals. The funny thing is the leftist black people who use them think of them as useful idiots. They are right. Conservatism rewards people based on merit, black or white.

    Anyway, I would consider it an honor and a privilege if you would add my blog “The Tygrrrr Express” http://www.blacktygrrrr.wordpress.com to your list of linked sites if you feel the quality is high. If this is a duplicate request, my bad in advance.

    Happy Summer.


  3. It should be abolished.

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