Salk Institute Biologist Inder Verma Placed On Leave After Sexual Assault Allegations

Photo courtesy of Salk.edu

This article deals with issues of sexual assault and harassment.

Inder Verma, the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Chair for Exemplary Life Sciences at Salk Institute, was placed on administrative leave on April 21 after eight women accused him of sexual assault and harassment.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Inder Verma, a world-renowned cancer biologist, was placed on leave after multiple women accused him of assaulting them between 1976 and 2016. Accusations ranged from physical assault, like grabbing their breasts or forcibly kissing them, to sexual comments made towards female researchers.

“I have never used my position at the Salk Institute to take advantage of others. I have also never engaged in any sort of intimate relationship with anyone affiliated with the Salk Institute,” Verma said through his lawyer in a statement to Nature. “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.”

Verma was removed as Editor-in-Chief of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2017 after he was implicated in a gender discrimination lawsuit filed against Salk Institute. The lawsuit alleged that female faculty were paid significantly less than male faculty and that women were left out of key retreats where male faculty met with donors. Verma was the highest paid member of Salk Institute at $406k, while one of the faculty suing spent three decades at Salk and was only paid $216k.

In a detailed investigation about several allegations, Science Magazine reported that Verma has been under investigation since February 2018 and that “for decades, women at Salk have warned female colleagues not to be alone with Verma.”

“Sexual harassment really reinforces the male power structure and keeps women in their place and terrified,” University of Oregon in Eugene research psychologist Jennifer Freyd told Science Magazine. “But also, any kind of gender inequity gives more permission to sexually harass. So they are mutually reinforcing. They do go together.”

Ethan Coston is an Assistant News Editor for The Triton. You can follow him @Ethan4Books