Neuroscience Professor Thomas Jessell Dismissed

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Earlier this evening, Columbia University announced the removal of Dr. Thomas Jessell, a prominent professor in the Departments of Neuroscience and Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, as reported by the New York Times. Dr. Jessell is a renowned neuroscientist; his accolades include the Canada Gairdner International Award in 2012, the Kavli Prize for Neuroscience in 2008, and membership in the Royal Society of London since 1996. He received his doctorate in neuroscience from Cambridge University, then began his career in academia at Harvard before becoming a professor at Columbia in 1985. His research has focused on sensory-motor nerve circuits.

An official statement from the University stated that Columbia “has ended the administrative positions of Dr. Thomas Jessell and will be winding down the Jessell lab,” following “an investigation that revealed serious violations of University policies and values governing the behavior of faculty members in an academic environment.” Columbia will, however, help to continue the projects of the lab and the careers of its 25 other members, including graduate and postdoctoral students. The University statement also reinforced Columbia’s commitment to “protecting the welfare of all members of the institution and the integrity of the academic mission.”

Official reports do not state the reasons for Dr. Jessell’s dismissal. However, Bwog received an anonymous tip earlier today suggesting that these reasons may relate to sexual misconduct. When asked to confirm or deny this information, a representative of Columbia’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs replied, “We have nothing further to say.”

Full statement from Columbia University Office of Communications and Public Affairs:

Columbia has ended the administrative positions of Dr. Thomas Jessell and will be winding down the Jessell lab at CUMC. These decisions follow an investigation that revealed serious violations of University policies and values governing the behavior of faculty members in an academic environment. The University will fulfill its responsibility to close the lab in a manner that both preserves valuable research and helps those involved to continue to pursue their careers. Dr. Jessell has been out of the lab since the investigation began.

Columbia is dedicated to protecting the welfare of all members of the institution and the integrity of the academic mission. Our standards and policies, including those at issue here, reflect the character of our community, and violations are, accordingly, taken seriously, investigated thoroughly, and when confirmed, acted upon.

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  1. Anonymous

    It's irresponsible to report information contained in an "anonymous tip" if you don't provide any further evidence to corroborate it. Anyone could "tip" you literally anything, true or false, but you'd still be none the wiser.

  2. Big Brother Loves You

    He is now an Unperson. IngSoc is doing the right thing.


  3. Anonymous tips help reporters know what direction to go in, and generally we know who the tipsters are and can evaluate their likelihood to have direct knowledge. My own sources saying that it was not scientific misconduct but personal behavior. Very important to cut through Columbia's secrecy which only protects the institution and not victims.

  4. B. Greene

    What about the Mady Hornig case against Lipson at Columbia?

  5. really?

    I work in MBBI. 100% can confirm this was a sexual harassment type of thing. Columbia keeping it quiet because of some weird notion that they are "protecting" current students and postdocs if they do so. Columbia was happy to release a press statement to the NY times before even emailing people in MBBI or neuroscience. Actually wait, they never emailed people in MBBI or neuroscience.

  6. Dr. Malted Milk Balls

    This is an obvious cover-up by Columbia. They are shutting the lab down and disbursing all the postdocs and employees, probably only going to assist them in moving on if they sign Non Disclosure Agreements. Where is the transparency? How bad must have the misconduct been to actually shut the lab down? This is a cover up, but of what, we can only guess. But it must be very, very bad.

    • really?

      Agreed. Columbia has to support the post docs/students until they can move to other labs or find new jobs. I.e., Columbia is paying them and has full power over them to keep everything hush hush.

    • Anonymous

      Why are you saying cover up? Nothing was covered up. Columbia performed an investigation and terminated one of the world's top tenured neuroscientists, possibly a future Nobel Prize winner. No one is owed an explanation other than the people in his lab. Columbia made the results of the investigation public with a press release.

      • Recent history and the rise of the #MeToo movement contradicts this idea. If the reasons for his termination (which reportedly involved sexual misconduct) are not made public, how is any other institution thinking of hiring him to know whether they should or not? How will new colleagues at such institutions know what they need to watch out for, and how much risk will new victims be subject to? We are way past this kind of thinking.

        • Anon E. Mouse  

          What other institution is going to hire him after he's been dismissed from Columbia and HHMI? I think that sends a fairly strong message about his personal conduct.

          The fact that they didn't reveal the cause of dismissal doesn't really suggest a cover up on Columbia's behalf. They may be trying to protect the victims, or there may even be an active court case against him with a gag order in place. These arbitrary speculations are just as valid as your arbitrary speculation that it's a cover up from Columbia.

          You don't just terminate a future Nobel Prize winner unless he's done something really bad. Columbia did the right thing by getting rid of him despite his power. The fact that they aren't saying what he did is immaterial; his career is finished. I just hope his victims can now begin to heal, and the school takes care of his employees by helping them find new jobs.

          • AnonNoSilence

            "What other institution is going to hire him after he's been dismissed from Columbia and HHMI? "

            One in another country, as a concrete example.

            No, this is not between Jessel and his lab and no one else. Weinstein's behavior, for example, had an effect on every (and certainly every actress) making movies at his time.

  7. Anonymous

    Jessell's charges are due to sexual misconduct.

  8. Anonymous

    There is a culture of fear and intimidation in many schools of Columbia, and abuse of power is common. The medical school is especially bad, although this is less true in the clinical areas.

    Certain individuals were/are so feared (even by tenured faculty) that people would go out of their way to avoid them, even to the point of not going to lectures, meetings and seminars.

    Powerful individuals at CU are often referred to, not by name, but as "Satan", "God", "He Who Shall Not Be Named" etc... which gives some idea of the degree of fear and loathing.

    There is a widespread perception that complaining about such individuals will just result in another episode of "Shoot The Messenger", as one group of 70 year olds defends another.

  9. Kim Jong Un

    Clearly dismissed for “violations of party discipline”. A statement from the North Korean Press Agency would have been more transparent.

  10. Steven Robbins

    One person's anonymous tip is another person's reckless rumor mongering.

    BWOG, you've got to make a decision; either you are in the business of responsibly sharing information or playing the at-home version of "journalism." It's time to grow up or go home.

  11. Anonymous

    I know of the the situation do to a close relative who is affected by the situation. Columbia needs to give a proper press release. Such blank State bank destroy reputations. It is not my place to say what happened in detail, but the worst is being assumed of such a respectable professional.

  12. Columbia University are closing down an entire scientific laboratory that as far as I can tell was working towards the benefit of humanity - understanding brain function and brain disease. The fact that this whole work programme is going to be closed down is worrying and there needs to reasons why given.

    Was the reason due to scientific fraud or for some other reasons. If not for scientific fraud this needs to be stated clearly.

  13. Miles

    Why not report what led to the dismissal? How long did CU know there was a problem before they did something? Who are they protecting by hiding the truth? Do you want an academic environment shrouded in secrecy? Is this a reflection of the overall climate at CU? Are students safe in this environment? Who can students trust to report serious violations of ethics to by powerful CU staff?

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