Editorial: Do no harm, Grossman. Reject Sabatini.

Hiring biologist David Sabatini would display a gross disregard for sexual assault survivors on the part of NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine.

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The WSN Editorial Board condemns the potential hiring of David Sabatini by the Grossman School of Medicine. (Image via MIT, Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli, Staff Illustration by Sam Tu)

Content warning: This article mentions sexual harrassment and abuse.

A history of sexual harassment. Pushed out of three institutions following allegations of sexual misconduct. A recommendation that his tenure be revoked. This is the reputation that follows biologist David Sabatini, who is now being considered for employment at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine.

Last year, Sabatini was forced out or fired from both the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for violating workplace sexual harrassment policies. In early April, he resigned from MIT after accusations of sexual assault by a graduate student. By late April, he was being considered for a faculty position at NYU. 

The behavior of the Grossman administration at large is a slap in the face to victims of sexual harassmment and abuse. It shows that, despite such grievous and violent disregard for consent, perpetrators of sexual misconduct can be welcomed with open arms by such prestigious institutions as NYU. No matter how well he teaches, no matter how noteworthy his research may be, Sabatini would be a danger to NYU students. Even considering him sends a message that Grossman administrators are willing to excuse sexual misconduct.

“It’s difficult to believe that someone in the future would feel comfortable coming forward with concerns about how they’re being treated in the workplace if NYU went out to recruit this man who was found by three separate institutions to have violated those policies,” an anonymous Ph.D. student told WSN.

The backlash has been widespread. University president Andrew Hamilton urged Grossman not to hire him. Members of the NYU Langone Health and Grossman community walked out in protest. Hundreds of students and faculty at NYU and peer institutions have signed an open letter, vowing against participating in events hosted by NYU Langone, lecturing or teaching any NYU Langone course, and collaborating with NYU Langone labs until Sabatini is removed from consideration for any position at NYU.

Grossman administrators are seemingly ignoring this vehement opposition from students and faculty. In a closed Zoom forum on April 28, Grossman executive vice president Dafna Bar-Sagi and Langone general counsel Annette Johnson offered reprehensible defenses for Sabatini’s conduct. Bar-Sagi cited Sabatini’s research as a major factor as to why Grossman is continuing with his candidacy, and both used language commonly employed to protect predators. It was a masterclass in defending abusers.

“We kind of expected for them to deny and obfuscate, but it seemed like they came out swinging against various victims,” Grossman Ph.D. candidate Paul Frazel told WSN following the closed forum with administrators. “They came out swinging against the student body.”

It is particularly disgusting that it was two women siding with a man with a record of preying on female trainees. As an editorial board composed of women and nonbinary people, we cannot fathom how Bar-Sagi and Johnson could defend Sabatini’s actions toward women like them.

In the Zoom meeting, Grossman administrators denied the victims’ allegations of coercion, claimed that MIT’s investigation was unfair to Sabatini, and watermarked forum attendees’ screens so that they could not share footage from the meeting without reprisal.

Evidently, Grossman is intent on not only silencing Sabatini’s victims, but also students and staff who continue to rally against their abhorrent decision. Furthermore, Grossman is contributing to a culture where abusers do not face repercussions for their deplorable actions.

“He has yet to take ownership of what he’s done or to apologize, and hiring him sends the message that you can do whatever you want to your trainees without repercussions,” said an anonymous Whitehead Institute employee who witnessed Sabatini’s behavior.

For Sabatini, losing his previous positions undoubtedly must have stung. However, how meaningful is that consequence when, weeks after resigning from MIT, he is being considered for a faculty position at one of the country’s best medical schools? Most importantly, would the position at NYU allow him to continue to do harm?

Grossman administrators are clearly overlooking these questions and, in fact, open to allowing him to assume a similar position to ones that allowed for his previous abuses of power. It was his status as university faculty, after all, that he manipulated to take advantage of graduate students. Who’s to say he won’t do the same at NYU?

To the Grossman administrators, we ask: Is this act of nepotism — David Sabatini is the son of a Grossman research professor — really worth it? Do you want Grossman to be known as the institution that welcomed an abuser onto its campus? Is this the type of man you want future medical professionals to study under? 

Considering Sabatini at all has already done irreparable damage to Grossman’s reputation — don’t damage it further. No academic accomplishments could outweigh the allegations against him. The Grossman administration’s discussions with Sabatini should have never happened in the first place. We implore Grossman to end them now. 

Opinions expressed in the house editorial reflect the views of the Editorial Board, which is composed of the Opinion Editors, the Deputy Opinion Editors and the Editor-in-Chief. The house editorial does not necessarily represent the opinions of WSN or its staff.

Contact the Editorial Board at [email protected]