A prominent biology professor and biotech founder at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been placed on administrative leave following an investigation into claims of sexual harassment, according to a letter from the dean of MIT’s School of Science that was sent to biology faculty members Friday.
Dr. David Sabatini, who leads the Sabatini Lab at MIT’s Whitehead Institute, “is no longer associated” with the institute or the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Dr. Nergis Mavalvala wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe. Mavalvala wrote that the investigator’s report “raises very serious concerns about sexual and workplace harassment.”
“This news is deeply troubling,” Mavalvala wrote.
Phone calls and e-mails seeking comment from MIT were not immediately returned Friday evening.
Sabatini also could not be reached for comment via phone or e-mail.
Mavalvala’s letter said MIT administrators were reviewing the report and Sabatini’s tenure at the university could be revoked.
“I have consulted with the Provost, and the senior administration of MIT is currently reviewing the report in more detail. In the meantime, we have placed Prof. Sabatini on administrative leave while we determine next steps in response to these findings, up to and including revocation of tenure proceedings,” Mavalvala wrote.
The investigation stemmed from a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion survey conducted last winter, the results of which identified “issues of particular concern” in the Sabatini Lab, according to an e-mail from Whitehead Institute Director Ruth Lehmann that was obtained by the Globe. The survey’s results led the institute to hire the law firm Hinkley Allen & Snyder to investigate the lab, the e-mail said.
“In sum, the investigation found that Dr. Sabatini violated the Institute’s policies on sexual harassment among other Whitehead policies unrelated to research misconduct,” Lehmann’s e-mail said.
A profile page for Sabatini on MIT’s website says his research focuses on “the pathways that regulate growth and metabolism and how they are deregulated in diseases like cancer and diabetes.” Sabatini also worked as an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Sabatini has been a biology professor at MIT since 2008 and was elected a Whitehead Fellow in 1997, according to an MIT News article that featured Sabatini and three other MIT professors elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2016. He is also a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer and a Senior Associate Member with the Broad Institute, according to the Sabatini Lab’s website.
In December 2020, Sabatini received the Nemmers Prize in Medical Science at Northwestern University, which is given to a “physician-scientist whose body of research exhibits outstanding achievement in their discipline as demonstrated by works of lasting significance,” according to an article on Northwestern’s website announcing the award.
The letter was sent to the biology faculty sometime Friday near the end of business hours.
“I regret that it had to be delivered late on a Friday, but the situation unfolded rapidly this afternoon,” Mavalvala wrote. “The appropriate support offices have been notified so that they are prepared to provide counsel to members of our community.”