Backlash Erupts as NYU Weighs Hiring Scientist Accused of Harassment

Graduate students, faculty and alumni of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine staged a strike Wednesday to protest a report that the school will soon see Dr. David Sabatini, a biologist facing sexual harassment allegations.

More than 100 people stretched on First Avenue in front of the NYU Medical Center, chanting and holding placards with slogans such as “No means no” and “No to Sabatini.” They said they felt betrayed and confused by the possibility that Dr. Sabatini would attend their school, which was reported in Science magazine.

“I hope he doesn’t get hired,” said Grant Hussey, a medical school graduate student. “The track record is clear.”

dr. David Sabatini has maintained that he was falsely accused of sexual harassment by a colleague with whom he said he had a consensual relationship. Credit… Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images

dr. Sabatini, 54, is a leading biologist best known for his discovery of the mTOR protein, which regulates cell growth in animals, as a graduate student. In a statement, he said allegations of sexual misconduct were false and declined to comment on potential employment at NYU

“As I have consistently maintained from the beginning, I strongly disagree with the way this case has been characterized, and I intend to set the record straight and stand up for my integrity,” said Dr. Sabatini.

Last August, Dr. Sabatini was placed on administrative leave at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he headed a research lab through the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research, after an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him — conducted by a law firm separate from the university — discovered that he was pursuing the policy. of the Institute on Sexual Misconduct.

On the same day, Dr. Sabatini also resigned from the Whitehead Institute and was fired by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which had funded his work at MIT.

He resigned from MIT earlier this month after three faculty members recommended he revoke his tenure, according to a letter to the faculty from L. Rafael Reif, MIT president, and obtained by The Boston Globe.

In the letter, Dr. Reif that the faculty members had reviewed the allegations and found that Dr. Sabatini had violated school policy on mutual romantic relationships in the workplace. They were also concerned about his “unprofessional” behavior with lab members.

During the protest, Megan Kirchgessner, a postdoctoral researcher at the medical school, said she was disappointed that the school would consider hiring a person charged with sexual harassment when the role could have been offered to someone from an underrepresented background. in science.

“It was a bit of a cynical reality check,” said Dr. Kirchgessner.

Deborah DeLair, a medical school professor, said hiring Dr. Sabatini would violate school policy on sexual misconduct.

“The rules should apply to everyone, regardless of whether you’re a well-known researcher,” she said. “You can’t say one thing and then do another.”

Several faculty members wrote a letter to the dean and vice dean of the medical school urging them to ask Dr. Sabatini not to recruit. The letter, obtained by The New York Times, said such a move could have a major impact on the school’s reputation. On Wednesday it was signed by about 90 teachers.

“While we understand that legal proceedings are still pending and that the public is not yet in possession of all the facts, we are concerned that this hire would signal a shift in policy that conflicts with our commitment to a respectful educational environment, a culture of respect for women and zero tolerance for misconduct,” the letter reads.

In a statement, Dafna Bar-Sagi, vice dean of the medical school, said the administration was reviewing the allegations and would not make a hiring decision that would “deviate” from the school’s policies.

“We are closely examining Dr. Sabatini’s case because it is clear that many aspects of his departure from MIT and the Whitehead Institute have never been publicly explored,” said Dr. Bar-Sagi. “In addition, dozens of colleagues and colleagues of Dr. Sabatini shared with us views that conflict with the investigation and its outcome. That said, we take the concerns we hear from our faculty and interns very seriously.”

It was not immediately clear what position Dr. Sabatini was eligible or what stage the recruitment process was at.

In October 2021, Dr. Sabatini filed a lawsuit against the Whitehead Institute and its accuser, a former colleague, alleging he had been falsely accused of sexual harassment by the colleague, with whom he said he had a consensual relationship. The prosecution filed a counterclaim in December, alleging that Dr. Sabatini had forced her to have sex, that he had created a “toxic and sexually charged laboratory environment”, and that he had “nurtured” her while she was still a graduate student supervised by him.

Standing outside NYU on Wednesday, several medical school students and staff said that if Dr. Sabatini would be hired, they would not attend his seminars and avoid all the school positions he would attend.

“We’re still at the point where we hope we can make our voices heard enough for this to actually happen,” said Dr. Kirchgessner.

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