KINGSTON, R.I. March 31, 2011 – As president and chief executive officer of California-based OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, Paul Hastings has helped improve the lives of people around the world through his work in the biotechnology industry.
As the first member of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community to receive the University of Rhode Island’s Diversity Award for Lifetime Achievement, Hastings is hoping to change the culture on campus.
Hastings will be honored and will serve as the featured speaker at the University’s 13th Annual Diversity Awards banquet to be held at the Memorial Union Ballroom, Tuesday, April 12 at 6:30 p.m. The event is coordinated by the Multicultural Center, the Office of Community, Diversity, and Equity, the Diversity Awards Committee, the Office of Affirmative Action, Equity, and Diversity, and the Graduate School.
“It was a surprise, a pleasant surprise,” Hastings said. “In my career, I have been on the receiving end of recognition for a few things, but I have never been recognized with my sexuality being the reason.”
The nomination for the honor came from URI President David M. Dooley, who met Hastings during a trip to San Francisco last summer. The two hit it off through a mutual interest in molecular biology and discussed the science field at length before Dooley turned the conversation more personal in nature.
“In the middle of the conversation, he turned and said, ‘I understand you are interested in other types of issues on campus, and that you have a rich and diverse background.’”
Understanding what Dooley was asking, Hastings confirmed that he was gay, and that he was interested in helping with any issues on campus. URI did have some issues, Dooley explained. He told Hastings about some unfortunate incidences on campus that targeted members of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender community. Several of these incidents led to a peaceful, eight-day sit-in by the GLBT community at the Carothers Library on the Kingston campus.
“I am happy to be considered and honored with the award, as long as the focus of this is on helping the people who are affected by potential discrimination or lack of respect for a simple matter of sexual preference or diversity. We need to clean up the perceptions on campus about people’s differences. If that is the goal, tell me where, when and how I can help.”
Hastings is an active supporter of StartOut, a California-based, non-profit organization that fosters leadership and economic empowerment among LGBT entrepreneurs, and combats discrimination against the LGBT community in the business world. A champion for underrepresented groups, he also runs a summer camp called Youth Rally (www.rally4youth.org) for youths with bladder or bowel dysfunction.
He pointed out that on the West Coast, one’s sexuality is not at all an issue.
“This is not a big deal,” Hastings said. “The fact that it could be a big deal to anyone on URI’s campus is embarrassing to me. This is 2011. If this is something people are tiptoeing around, they are way out of date.
“New England, and Rhode Island in particular, is the melting pot of the country. I can’t imagine those people who immigrated here could ever imagine their children would be discriminated against because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality or any other reason. From everything I know, Rhode Island is a state that stands for democracy and huma rights. It’s a state that should want to always lead, not follow.”
Following their meeting in California, Hastings sent Dooley a note letting him know he’d be in Boston in early April for a business trip. The timing worked out perfectly for the Diversity Awards, as well as the Discovery@URI program being held on campus April 13. At 11:45 a.m. in the Galanti Lounge of the library, Hastings will be part of a panel addressing the role of research, scholarship and innovation in the creation of new companies and jobs.
“I am a biotechnology junkie, so it is equally exciting to see what the University is doing with the College of Pharmacy, biotechnology and the College of Business,” Hastings said. “To be able to give students the opportunity to work in life sciences with a focus on the science of process development and recombinant DNA manufacturing is perfect for URI. The University has acknowledged that there are more than just the traditional routes with pharmacy and business. One of the last innovation areas the United States ‘owns’ is biotechnology, and the fact that URI is embracing that is a great thing.”
A native of Portland, Maine, Hastings found a new world waiting for him when he arrived at URI as an 18-year-old.
“URI represented for me a new life, a new frontier,” Hastings said. “To me, it was a big campus, and I was really excited to be somewhere other than where I had grown up. This great University afforded me the opportunity to be independent.”
Hastings was mentored by then-Associate Dean of the College of Pharmacy Norm Campbell. Campbell encouraged him to embrace the diversity that the University had to offer. Hastings had a keen interest in attending business courses, and Campbell encouraged him to look outside the walls of the College of Pharmacy and take business courses.
It was there Hastings met another key mentor, Professor Gene Johnson, who taught classes in strategic sales and marketing management, and had a major impact on his decision to go into the “business” of pharmacy. Hastings began his career working at Hoffman LaRoche, where he ultimately worked as product manager on a team developing the business strategy for the marketing of Roche’s first biotechnology product, alpha interferon.
“Growing up in Portland, Maine, I saw the occasional exchange student in high school, but I had never seen such a huge international focus as I saw on campus,” Hastings said. “This was as far back as 1978. It was all very exciting to me. I spent six years in the College of Pharmacy. All my years were blissful and exciting and propelled me to a career that has been fantastic.”
It is a career that has taken Hastings from Rhode Island to Connecticut, New Jersey, Colorado, Holland, Germany, British Columbia and his current home, San Francisco.
“URI to me was this big place, and it was overwhelming at first,” Hastings said. “It turned out to be home to me.”
Now Hastings is coming home to talk about two parts of his life that are equally important to him.
“Knowing how I feel about the University and biotechnology, this is a great chance to combine two things I love,” Hastings said. “Nothing is more important than the message that there are different kinds of students everywhere. Everyone needs to be treated with the same level of respect. There is no place at a university for needing to hide or even be careful about being who you are, or being discriminated against based on anything. I’m hoping that this award will help to punctuate that.”