On Friday, the Howard Hughes Medical Center (HHMI) fired prominent biologist David Sabatini after a study of his workplace behavior. At the same time, Sabatini resigned from the Whitehead Institute, a nonprofit research institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his large HHMI-supported laboratory was located.
“David Sabatini … is no longer associated with either the organization or the Whitehead Howard Hughes physician organization, effective immediately,” wrote Whitehead Director Ruth Lehmann in an email to employees. . An investigation by an outside law firm, he wrote, “revealed that Dr. Sabatini violated the agency’s policy on sexual harassment, among other policies related to investigating misconduct.
An HHMI spokesperson, who had funded Sabatini’s work at the agency since 2008, wrote “HHMI is committed to providing a fair and inclusive work environment for all of our employees., … HHMI has completed the recruitment of Dr. Sabatini. as an investigator, following the decision that he had violated HHMI’s policy on workplace behavior. “
Sabatini remains a full-time professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where members of the Whitehead Institute are appointed professors. “MIT has not fired Professor Sabatini,” wrote its vice president and chief adviser, Mark DiVincenzo, in an email. In a subsequent email, an MIT spokesperson added: “An extensive study and report by an outside Whitehead Institute law firm has found violations of many of Whitehead’s policies, including its sexual harassment policy. MIT’s top management is reviewing the report and deciding next steps to address these findings, including the withdrawal of work hours.
Lehmann’s email to Whitehead staff added that the Whitehead Institute had contracted with Hinkley, Allen & Snyder to investigate a campus climate study conducted last winter “pointed to issues of particular concern at the Sabatini Laboratory.”
Lehmann wrote that the shooting will have a “significant impact” on the 39 people who worked in the Sabatini lab, which focuses on methods that control mammalian growth and metabolism. All 39 will meet with Whitehead Human Resources staff next week, he wrote, with the goal of moving them seamlessly to other situations.
As a student, Sabatini discovered the mTOR kinase signaling pathway, a centralized regulator of growth and aging that does not work properly in common diseases, including cancer. You have continued to focus on the path and have discovered many of its main aspects. In 2016, he was elected to the American Academy of Sciences , which recently began expelling members whose institutions found them guilty of sexual harassment.
Sabatini did not respond to a request for comment.
Lehmann was among several prominent biologists who published a letter in Science in 2017 claiming that US physiological institutions are not doing enough to combat gender discrimination.
Update (Aug 21 10:30): This story has been updated with statements from HHMI, the Whitehead Institute, and MIT, and has been corrected to reflect that MIT did not run Sabatini.