Biologist Accused of Sexual Misconduct Withdraws from Consideration at NYU

David Sabatini, the prominent cancer biologist who was forced out of MIT and two related institutions after he was accused of sexual misconduct, announced today that he’s withdrawn his name from consideration for a position at NYU. 

Sabatini’s potential hiring at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine had drawn intense protests from the student body and some faculty. At a private meeting with some research faculty and trainees last week, NYU medical school administrators defended the hiring process they were using to recruit Sabatini and strongly implied the allegations against him were not true. 

In a statement issued through a spokesperson this morning, Sabatini wrote that he was withdrawing from consideration due to the “enormous pressure” the controversy over his hiring had placed on NYU. The statement reads, in full:

False, distorted, and preposterous allegations about me have intensified in the press and on social media in the wake of reports last week that New York University Langone Health was considering hiring me.

I understand the enormous pressure this has placed on NYU Langone Health and do not want to distract from its important mission.  I have therefore decided to withdraw my name from consideration for a faculty position there.

I deeply respect NYU Langone Health’s mission and appreciate the support from individuals who took the time to learn the facts.  I remain steadfast in believing that the truth will ultimately emerge and that I will eventually be vindicated and able to return to my research.

 Sabatini was fired or forced to step down from three related institutions—MIT, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute—over accusations from a junior colleague that he’d created a “toxic and sexually charged” lab environment and that he coerced her into a sexual relationship. Sabatini sued the Whitehead Institute, its director Dr. Ruth Lehmann and his accuser for defamation, saying the relationship had been consensual. In a countersuit, Sabatini’s accuser called his lawsuit “frivolous” and retaliatory, and said it “peddled falsehoods and fanciful conspiracy theories.”

 NYU’s medical school went to extraordinary lengths to defend the hiring process that had Sabatini as a viable candidate, setting up a Twitter account in January which has been used solely to respond to public furor over the potential hiring. In an internal rift made unusually public, university president Andrew Hamilton had strongly advised the medical school not to hire him. Besides NYU, Sabatini had other defenders: a group of alumni who previously worked in his lab published an anonymous open letter on Medium writing, in part, “[W]e never experienced or observed an abusive lab culture or a sexualized lab environment, and we did not witness sexual harassment.” 

Both NYU officials and Sabatini’s defenders expressed a belief that the controversy was due in large part to cancel culture and social media-driven outrage. In the private meeting with the medical school’s faculty and researchers, one administrator said, “The only thing I can say is that we hired a fair number of people here that had controversy surrounding them, the only thing that changed is social media. That’s really the only thing.” 

An attorney for Sabatini’s accuser did not immediately respond to a request for comment. NYU also issued a statement, attributed to Robert I. Grossman, MD, the CEO of NYU Langone Health and the dean of NYU School of Medicine, and Dafna Bar-Sagi, who serves as the school’s executive vice-president and a vice-dean. It reads, in full: 

After careful and thorough consideration that included the perspectives of many stakeholders, both Dr. David Sabatini and NYU Grossman School of Medicine have reached the conclusion that it will not be possible for him to become a member of our faculty.

 Our overarching mission at NYUGSOM is advancing science and medicine to save lives. That is what compelled us to give careful reflection to hiring Dr. Sabatini after he initially reached out to us. In the course of our due diligence, we heard voices of support from many dozens of Dr. Sabatini’s colleagues, lab alumni, and peers who described their first-hand experiences working with him. But we also heard clearly the deep concern from our own faculty, staff, and trainees. Our thorough review and deliberate approach was essential for us to make an independent evaluation consistent with our own institutional priorities.

We appreciate and respect the input we received from so many people in this process.

 

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