But does it discriminate against its tenured female scientists?
That's the subject of a recently filed lawsuit by Victoria J. Lundblad, PhD, and Kathy Jones, PhD, which claims Salk has “allowed an old boys club to dominate creating a hostile work environment for Salk tenured women professors.”
In reply, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, president of the Salk Institute and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist said, “As a woman who has seen first-hand the extraordinary contributions female scientists have made to science and health research, I have both a personal and professional interest in ensuring that women are valued, supported and encouraged to be at the forefront of this critical work. I would never preside over an organization that in any way condones, openly or otherwise, the marginalizing of female scientists. We are saddened and deeply disappointed by the misrepresentations made by our colleagues in these claims, which we will defend against vigorously.”
“There are only three female tenured professors employed by Salk, and all three of them are making claims (of discrimination),” noted Deborah Dixon, the attorney representing two of the plaintiffs.
“I was promoted at Salk in 1998, and my colleague was promoted in 1999 to be full professors, and no women have been promoted since in 19 years,” said plaintiff Jones. “Salk says women come here, stay here, and thrive. But we only have four women who've been promoted (tenured professors), and there are 28 males who are tenured, in a field that's at least 50-50.”
In the lawsuit against Salk alleging gender discrimination against women, it is stated, “Salk's gender-biased policies and practices have led to both explicit and implicit gender discrimination … Salk allows a subset of senior men to openly vocalize biases against the only three Salk tenured women professors, which has created a hostile work environment … the discrimination has affected these women's advancements within Salk. The pervasive gender discrimination is obvious, yet Salk takes no action to stop such conduct, or rectify its damage.”
Salk insists the allegations raised concerning gender discrimination “lack merit” contending those allegations “already have been debunked by other current female professors at the institute who have flourished here.”
Dr. Joanne Chory, professor and director of Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory said, “This marks my 29th year at the Salk Institute, and I feel fortunate to have spent most of my scientific career here. 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.”
Attorney Dixon countered that Chory, unlike the plaintiffs she's representing in their suit, is not a Salk employee.
Though Salk, at present, is led by a female scientist, Jones claims decisions as to whom, and which gender, get selected to be tenure track is done within a “male-dominated culture.” She said, what she'd like to see accomplished by the gender-discrimination suit, is to “provide more transparency,” adding she hopes the legal action taken will “mobilize donors to push Salk hard to turn this boat around.”
“We need a big course correction,” concluded Jones.
Salk was founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine. Among the founding consultants were Jacob Bronowski and Francis Crick, a co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule which has led to genetic mapping.
The institute consistently ranks among the top institutions in the United States in terms of research output and quality in the life sciences. Salk employs 850 researchers in 60 research groups and focuses its research in three areas: molecular biology and genetics; neurosciences; and plant biology. Research topics include cancer, diabetes, birth defects, Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease and AIDS. The March of Dimes provided the initial funding, and continues to support the institute.