Faculty and students staged a walkout Wednesday at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in protest over the school’s employment consideration of Dr. David M. Sabatini, a biology professor recently forced out of MIT and two other research institutions after an internal probe revealed sexual misconduct.
The protest of a couple of hundred people, chanting with signs against Sabatini, stretched more than two blocks down Manhattan's First Avenue. The action was planned to coincide with a formal visit from donors.
NYU students and staff in attendance expressed concern over what kind of message the school was sending by considering the hire of a scientist accused of harassing women in his laboratory, and whether such a hire would be safe in their work environments.
“It goes against our own code of conduct and community values at NYU,” said Grace Ciabattoni, a first-year graduate student. “It changes the culture and makes the statement that there are no consequences to your actions. It just makes the environment less safe.”
Sabatini resigned from MIT in early April, as reported by Science Magazine, on the recommendation of school officials who alleged that he had violated workplace policies around sexual relationships. His departure came about a year after an internal probe at the Whitehead Institute, a research enterprise in Cambridge Massachusetts, concluded that Sabatini had violated sexual harassment policies.
Whitehead, along with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which funds Sabatini's lab, subsequently cut ties. In response, Sabatini had sued Whitehead, one of its officials and his accuser, arguing that the relationship in question was consensual.
Sabatini did not immediately return a request for comment.
Sabatini is the son of David D. Sabatini, professor emeritus of cell biology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. His father was also the chair of the school from 1972 to 2011. Both father and son are members of the National Academy of Sciences.
The younger Sabatini has made many advances in cancer research, including the co-discovery of mTOR, a protein that directs cell growth in mammals and is involved with aging, metabolism and many diseases. Before he was 30, Sabatini directed his own laboratory at Whitehead Institute, and he was named an MIT professor by his mid-30s. He has authored over 250 scientific papers.
“Going through with this hire sends the opposite message of what we have been preaching at NYU,” said Mohammed Sadic, a sixth-year M.D./Ph.D student. “We stand against anything that signals a corrupt culture or sexual harassment.”
In an emailed statement, NYU Grossman School of Medicine told Gothamist that it still has not made a decision on hiring him and is in the “midst of an extensive and careful due diligence process” with a wide cross-section of its faculty, staff and students.
“We encourage the community to not prejudge or draw unwarranted conclusions until our full evaluation has been completed,” wrote NYU Grossman School of Medicine spokesperson Lisa Greiner. “The investigative process into Dr. Sabatini’s lab is the subject of litigation, and we have heard directly from dozens of Dr. Sabatini’s peers and colleagues describing a first-hand view that is starkly at odds with the investigation and its outcome.”
NYU has no deadline for their decision, citing a careful and thorough evaluation as their priority.