David Sabatini is hired by Prague
Cancel culture is holding the USA back
David Sabatini was a successful researcher at MIT, whose work on mTOR was headed for the Nobel prize, when he resigned due to violating university sexual relationship policies. I won't revisit all the details, as they are covered well in the Free Press by Bari Weiss, but the gist is he had a consensual relationship with a junior person who did not directly report to him, but worked in the same department. That was prohibited by MIT.
A few months later, NYU announced they would hire Sabatini, but, after protest from students, and other interested parties, they rescinded the offer.
Bill Ackman, a famed investor, organized support for David. Whichever university hired him, would get 25 million in grant money alongside his mind.
A few months ago, a colleague called me up. He shared my view that at some point we have to say: ok, Sabatini has been punished enough. He lost his job, and didn't work for a year +. Now, that the punishment has been delivered, a university could hire him. All they need to do is issue a press release
“We are well aware of what occured with Dr Sabatini, and we do not condone it. At the same time, punishments should be proportional to the crime. We think Sabatini has been punished enough for this error. Obviously, at some point, we think he should be allowed to do science again. We are hiring him here. We told him our rules and we have a low threshold to make sure he follows them. He has agreed. Ultimately, no one benefits from banning him from science for life. And we do not think that is fair, and consistent with the progressive values of forgiveness and second chance.”
We both speculated that eventually some mid tier place would have the courage to do this. A Duke, UNC, University of Alabama, U Texas, etc etc. It would be a huge catch for such a place to get Sabatini and 25 mil. Who would have the courage?
Today, it was announced that Sabatini would be going to Prague. He has been hired by a university in the Czech republic. The statement they issued is very similar to what we predicted.
Why Prague? Why did no university in the United States hired Sabatini?
Of course, it is possible that someone tried, but Sabatini preferred this offer.
My speculation is this did not occur, and this was the first offer made.
The next possibility, is that everyone agrees what he did is unforgivable. This is also unlikely. I have told the details of the story to many people, including young people, those who work in labs, and most think the MIT policy is abridge too far, as it prohibits dating even outside of work hierarchies. (I.e. different labs)
So what happened? Here are a few thoughts.
University administrators lacked the courage to take this gamble. Probably, they worried about protests. What it things go south? Best case scenario the protests result in rescinding the offer. Worst case, they also want the administrator responsible for the hiring to be fired too. Likely administrators care about their own job too much to take the gamble.
If my hypothesis is true, it represents a very scary moment in cancel culture. The USA is so fearful, that some very bright minds are being lost. Sabatini is going to Europe— that's a loss for the US, and frankly is not fair. Hopefully some US institution grows more courage in the future. There will always be 100+ protesters who think a punishment should be extended, but balanced, centrist people need to make important decisions— not the 100 most extreme views.