NYU pres. had ‘strongly advised’ against med school’s potential hiring of MIT biologist accused of sexual misconduct
David Sabatini, a former tenured professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who stepped down following sexual assualt allegations, is being considered for hiring by NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine despite community backlash.
April 27, 2022
NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine is considering hiring David Sabatini, a biologist who was fired from or forced to leave three other institutions after being accused of sexual misconduct, as first reported by Science on Monday, April 25. University president Andrew Hamilton had urged the medical school to not hire Sabatini. The medical school has not yet made a decision in the matter.
“The Medical School is pursuing this hire on its own, notwithstanding President Hamilton having strongly advised them against it,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman wrote to WSN. “NYU’s schools are able to make non-tenure-track hiring decisions on their own without the approval of the University.”
Sabatini had resigned from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on April 1, where he was a tenured professor, after administrators recommended revoking his tenure due to a graduate student’s sexual assault allegations against him. He also resigned from MIT’s Whitehead Institute, the university’s nonprofit biomedical research center, after outside lawyers said he had gone against university sexual harrassment and misconduct policies in 2021. He was fired by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit research organization, the same year.
A letter condemning the potential hiring of Sabatini had been signed by more than 110 students and faculty from NYU, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other universities at the time of writing. The letter, addressed to the school’s dean and executive officer Robert Grossman and executive vice president Dafna Bar-Sagi, states that the hiring consideration disregards the safety of women in the university community.
“Anything short of a forceful rejection of this is to be complicit — complicit in upholding the same power structures that harm our most vulnerable, in maintaining inequity, in perpetuating rape culture,” the letter reads. “We will not tolerate abusers in our midst under any circumstance.”
Signees pledged not to attend NYU Langone events, give lectures or teach courses at the school, or work with Langone labs, experiments, facilities or projects until the university is no longer considering hiring Sabatini.
It’s actually shocking that NYU would even consider hiring him.”
— Rachel Swanson, Grossman graduate student
Rachel Swanson, a graduate student in Grossman’s neuroscience department, said Sabatini’s potential hiring made her feel nervous and angry for women who join the school’s programs in the future. Swanson said she and many other students did not find out about the university’s ongoing conversations until it was reported by Science on Monday.
“My baseline response is one of disgust,” Swanson said. “It can be unclear what is ethically correct or incorrect — things can be ethically ambiguous. This is definitely not ethically ambiguous at all. It’s actually shocking that NYU would even consider hiring him because these other institutions on par with NYU have kicked him out.”
On April 26, an NYU Grossman spokesperson told WSN that no official decision had been made regarding Sabatini’s hiring.
“Dr. Sabatini’s work and scientific accomplishments are widely recognized, and any decision about a potential role at NYU Grossman School of Medicine would be subject to careful and extensive due diligence and consultation with a broad group of stakeholders,” the spokesperson wrote to WSN.
A walkout at the NYU Langone Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences is planned for April 27 to show support for current NYU Grossman students and trainees in opposition to Sabatini’s recruitment. Participants will meet at 2 p.m. at 30th Street and First Avenue across from NYU Langone’s Kimmel Pavilion. NYU students at the university’s Washington Square campus can meet outside of the Silver School of Social Work at 1:15 p.m. to travel uptown by subway to join the walkout.
An NYU Grossman postdoctoral student, who requested to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation from the university, said the administration’s lack of transparency to students and faculty violated her trust.
“We’ve been blindsided,” they said. “We really value our institution and we think that the environment that they’ve created for us as employees, as trainees, has been one where we’re able to conduct science at the highest level. It feels like there’s been some violation there and that we’re obviously upset about it. It just feels like they’ve created an us versus them situation where we’ve been working together as a team and now that trust and that collaboration feels a little bit like it’s been jeopardized.”
Arnav Binaykia and Rachel Cohen contributed reporting.
Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected]