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Saturday, July 15, 2006

It's my toy and you can't play with it

MIT star accused by 11 colleagues
Prospective hire was intimidated, they say

By Marcella Bombardieri and Gareth Cook, Globe Staff | July 15, 2006

Eleven MIT professors have accused a powerful colleague, a Nobel laureate, of interfering with the university's efforts to hire a rising female star in neuroscience.

The professors, in a letter to MIT's president, Susan Hockfield , accuse professor Susumu Tonegawa of intimidating Alla Karpova , ``a brilliant young scientist," saying that he would not mentor, interact, or collaborate with her if she took the job and that members of his research group would not work with her.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they wrote in their June 30 letter, ``allowed a senior faculty member with great power and financial resources to behave in an uncivil, uncollegial, and possibly unethical manner toward a talented young scientist who deserves to be welcomed at MIT." They also wrote that because of Tonegawa's opposition, several other senior faculty members cautioned Karpova not to come to MIT.

She has since declined the job offer.

In response to the June 30 letter, six of Tonegawa's colleagues defended him in their own letter to Hockfield.

Tonegawa, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, is considered one of the world's top scientists, and also one of the most powerful. The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, which he oversees, received $50 million in 2002 to support research into Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and other diseases. Despite his success, Tonegawa saw Karpova ``as a competitive threat to him," according to a June 27 letter from a Stanford professor to Hockfield. All three letters were obtained by the Globe. Karpova's job offer was made jointly by the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the biology department, which would not have required her to work with Tonegawa.

The MIT professors who signed the letter are pressuring administrators to give Karpova a formal apology and to investigate the situation. ``We have damaged MIT's reputation as an institution that supports academic fairness for young faculty and jeopardized our ability to attract the best scientists to MIT," wrote the 11 professors, all women, and most involved in MIT committees on gender equity issues. Several of the professors could not be reached and one declined to comment.

Hockfield was traveling and unavailable for comment yesterday. MIT's provost is looking into the allegations, said Robert J. Silbey , the dean of science. In a statement provided by an MIT spokeswoman, the university said it cannot discuss hiring situations, but acts to address any concerns about unfairness in faculty hiring.

Forget the pettiness. When MIT is sued over sexual discrimination, this case will be part of the record. The good professor may have cost MIT millions with his pettiness. Regardless of his reasons, MIT may be screwed in ways far more than not hiring one scientist.

And if a man is hired for this job, this ugliness is sure to be replayed in a courtroom at someone point.

posted by Steve @ 8:47:00 AM

8:47:00 AM

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