Salk's Cancer Scientist, Inder Verma Placed On Leave After Harassment Allegations

View of the central plaza at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, looking west towards the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: © Salk Institute for Biological Studies)

Prominent cancer and gene therapy scientist, Inder Verma of the Salk Institute of Biological Studies has been placed on leave, whilst the institute is investigating allegations against him. 

Dan Lewis, chairman of the institute’s board of trustees sent out an email to Salk employees late last week: 

Recently, the Insitute became aware of allegations concerning Dr. Inder Verma. Consistent with Salk’s policies governing workplace conduct, the Institute has undertaken a formal investigation that is being led by an independent outside party. 

We have also learned that Science is preparing a story about Dr. Verma and related allegations. Earlier this week, the reporter presented the Institute with information about her story that included claims the Institute was not previously aware of. We take these allegations very seriously and have expanded the scope of the investigation.

Yesterday, our Board of Trustees met to determine an appropriate course of action. Effective immediately, Dr. Verma has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation. He will not be performing scientific of administrative roles on behalf of the Institute during this period. 

 

According to Science, they requested an interview with Salk officials regarding sexual harassment allegations against Verma on April 17th. The Institute asked for a list of detailed written questions, which it received from Science on Wednesday morning, April 18th. 

Dr. Verma denied allegations in a statement issued by his lawyer, according to Science. “I have never used my position at the Salk Institute to take advantage of others,” he wrote. “I have also never engaged in any sort of intimate relationship with anyone affiliated with the Salk Institute. I have never inappropriately touched, nor have I made any sexually charged comments, to anyone affiliated with the Salk Institute. I have never allowed any offensive or sexually charged conversations, jokes, material, etc. to occur at the Salk Institute.”

The Salk Institute began its investigation into allegations against Dr. Verma in February, according to a Salk spokesperson. 

The last year has been challenging for the high-profile institute. Last summer, three female researchers claimed that they, along with other women have suffered gender discrimination at the Institute, calling the Institute an “old boys club”. 

And in December last year, Salk’s first female president, Elizabeth Blackburn announced her retirement (this summer), after just over two years in the role. The news came the same week that Dr. Verma, temporarily gave up his position as editor-in-chief of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) as a result of the lawsuits. 

At the time, Blackburn said: “being named to the lead the Salk Institute unquestionably has been an honour of my life and this decision did not come without a great deal of thought.” 

The Salk Institute of Biological Studies profile remains high, however. Former Vice President, Joe Biden, visited the Institute on Friday where he talked about national efforts to greatly improve the ability of scientists and physicians to diagnose, treat and prevent cancer.

 


24/04/2018 10:30 am PDT
This story has been updated: It’s three professors that have filed a gender discrimination against Salk (Drs. Victoria Lundblad, Katharine Jones, and Beverly Emerson), not two, as a previous version of this story stated. 

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