inder verma

Scientist Inder Verma resigned from his post at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies prior to the institute announcing its action after a months-long investigation into sexual harassment allegations. (screen grab of YouTube/Salk Institute)

The La Jolla, Calif.-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies Board of Trustees June 11 unanimously accepted the resignation of Indian American cancer and gene therapy scientist Inder Verma, board chair Dan Lewis and Salk president Rusty Gage announced in a jointly penned letter.

Verma had been on leave since April when the institute began an investigation looking into his conduct (see India-West article here: https://bit.ly/2sS41fn).

The investigations stemmed from sexual harassment allegations levied against the 70-year-old Verma. Lewis had announced that an independent outside party was conducting the investigation.

At the time, Verma denied all allegations, saying in a statement, “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,” he said. “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.”

According to Lewis and Gage – who was asked to stay on as president in an interim capacity to focus fully on the Verma matter, before resuming a search for the institute’s next president – action was set to be taken against Verma, though he resigned before being disciplined.

“Based on the findings of the investigator, the Institute has considered appropriate responsive action. Last week, prior to the board concluding its discussions regarding the investigation and taking formal action, Dr. Verma tendered his unconditional resignation,” Lewis and Gage wrote.

Verma was accused of sexual harassment by eight women, according to an April 26 story by the journal Science. The alleged harassment of the women occurred from 1976 to 2016, the Science article said.

The institute’s letter made no mention of any specific allegations, but implied Verma’s conduct went against Salk’s mission.

“When we signed on to be part of the Salk, we signed on to Jonas Salk’s bold mission to better humanity. And no humanistic value can be more important than respectful, fair treatment of each and every person – not just on our campus, but in all walks of our lives,” they added.

Verma, who has been with Salk since 1974, is a professor in the laboratory of genetics, an American Cancer Society professor of molecular biology, and the Irwin and Joan Jacobs chair in exemplary life science.

Verma is the recipient of several honors. Among his accolades include being named an American Association for Cancer Research Fellow, receiving a Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Award for Cancer Research and Spector Prize, among others.

He earned a master’s degree in biochemistry from Lucknow University in India and a doctorate in biochemistry from The Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He also was a postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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