April 18, 2019
As you may have seen, this week the Salk Institute featured prominently in the international spotlight, with Professor Joanne Chory and a talented team of Salk scientists receiving a $35 million award from TED Audacious, a collaborative platform founded to identify “jaw-dropping ideas” and “encourage the world’s greatest change-agents to dream bigger.” In this case, the “jaw-dropping” idea is Salk’s Harnessing Plants Initiative, an innovative approach to combatting climate change.
This well-deserved honor is a testament to Dr. Chory’s extraordinary, 30-year career at the Institute – a career that has been defined by perseverance, passion and the indefatigable pursuit of life-changing scientific breakthroughs. It is also illustrative of how our Institute, as Jonas himself hoped, remains in a continuous state of evolution, focused on the most pressing challenges facing humanity and, indeed, always dreaming bigger.
While news of this achievement has dominated Salk headlines, the Institute today is also being portrayed in a far different light, with The New York Times Magazine publishing a piece about the long-since resolved, and already widely publicized, lawsuits filed against the Institute nearly two years ago.
As you know from our prior communications, we have been open and forthcoming about the issues we faced, discussed the steps being taken and made clear our values during this challenging period. We took the same approach with the Times freelance reporter – providing extensive documentation, detailed responses and relevant information over more than a year, working within the constraints of litigation. Our goal was simply a fair, comprehensive and unbiased article. Unfortunately, much of Salk’s account is not included in the piece.
Particularly notable is the Times’ disappointing decision to omit every statement provided on behalf of the Institute’s current leadership, Board of Trustees and, especially, current women faculty members. In addition to Dr. Chory (whose name does not even appear in the article), these faculty members include Dr. Susan Kaech, a distinguished former Yale professor who announced her decision to join Salk shortly before the lawsuits were filed and arrived in early 2018, and Dr. Kay Tye, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, who was recruited from MIT as a full professor in the middle of the litigation. Since their voices and experiences are absent from the Times article, we want to take the opportunity to share their comments provided to the reporter:
“I feel fortunate to have spent most of my scientific career [at Salk]. While there are always opportunities to increase access for women scientists, I’ve always thought that the Salk has provided me with the facilities and resources that I needed to flourish as a scientist. I have enjoyed collaborations and made discoveries that would not have been possible anywhere else.”
– Professor Joanne Chory
“Since joining Salk in March , I have been impressed with how the Institute’s leadership has faced these challenges, approaching them thoughtfully, optimistically and openly. [Salk president] Dr. Gage is highly sensitive to and engaged in issues related to equity and inclusion and has demonstrated his commitment to building on the meaningful progress that has been made by prior leaders. As president, he has been a stabilizing and reassuring presence, but what I have felt the most is his enthusiasm and aspirational desire to make Salk a place where we can all do the most impactful and innovative scientific research possible.”
– Professor Susan Kaech
“My impression is that Salk has taken these challenges to heart, and the Salk community is particularly open at this time to prioritizing parity for all underrepresented populations in science and is poised to become one of the most progressive institutions in the world.”
– Professor Kay Tye
While it would be tempting to continue to engage in rebuttal with respect to the Times, our focus must be forward-looking. As we move beyond this chapter, it is appropriate to reflect on the considerable advances we have made on multiple fronts, scientifically and organizationally.
Nearly a year ago we established an Office of Equity & Inclusion, which was among the many important outgrowths to emerge from the strategic planning process initiated by then-president Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, who has been a fierce champion of women throughout her distinguished career. Salk also took a leading role in joining the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to form an Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education. Further expanding the number of women full professors at Salk, on Tuesday we announced the promotions of two women faculty. Women at Salk make up 24.5 percent of our faculty, 23.5 percent at the full professor level and 26 percent at the junior professor level. Continuing to raise these figures remains a priority for us – a priority that has been a formally defined area of focus since 2001, when former president Richard Murphy set in motion a forward-looking process to consider how Salk could “best recruit and maintain a diverse faculty and promote its well-being and success.”
Having had the privilege to serve as Salk’s president since January 2018, I continue to be humbled and heartened by the ways in which we have come together as a community to rededicate ourselves to the promotion of our founding principles, affirming that our commitment to better humanity must infuse everything we do, not just in our labs, but throughout our lives. In chasing the scientific horizon today, we are stronger, better united and even more grounded in our bold, humanistic mission. My deep appreciation to all of you for your support.
President, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Office of Communications
Tel: (858) 453-4100
Every cure has a starting point. The Salk Institute embodies Jonas Salk’s mission to dare to make dreams into reality. Its internationally renowned and award-winning scientists explore the very foundations of life, seeking new understandings in neuroscience, genetics, immunology, plant biology and more. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature and fearless in the face of any challenge. Be it cancer or Alzheimer’s, aging or diabetes, Salk is where cures begin.