Still, no one at the university is looking forward to the prospect of a faculty member starving himself on the president's doorstep. MIT Chancellor Phil Clay said, "professor Sherley is entitled to protest the denial of tenure, but the method is of great concern to us. He intends to do harm to himself. I'm very unhappy about it."
MIT officials are quick to point out that even among the best and the brightest, 60 percent of associate professors at MIT do not get tenure. Clay said, "I think the process is fair to minority candidates. I do not dismiss that race is a complicating factor, but I do believe that we have sufficient safeguards in reviewing the process."
Officials would not provide figures that compare the number of minority candidates who do get tenure versus the number of nonminority candidates.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, last Friday Hockfield announced plans to "undertake a comprehensive, rigorous and systematic study of the impact of race on the hiring, advancement and experience of minority faculty at the Institute."
Chancellor Clay, however, insisted that trying to attract and nourish minority faculty is nothing new at MIT. "Going back to the late '70s, we have been trying to improve our process. President Hockfield understands that we need to do outreach and encourage talent from all sources…and do all we can to ensure faculty members from minority groups that MIT will give them not only a fair process but a favorable environment for growth."
James Sherley admits that it has been hard explaining all of this to his two young daughters. "The hunger strike was upsetting to them. I told them how important it is that we speak the truth. And that we stand up when something wrong happens to us or other people -- we need to do something. I told them this doesn't mean I don't love them. This means I love them immensely."