Minority faculty sought
By Katherine Shim
In a memorandum to the Academic Council and all department heads, Provost Mark S. Wrighton announced plans this week for a new program designed to increase the number of underrepresented minorities on the MIT faculty.
The program will include the creation of new faculty positions for underrepresented minorities in the event that no established faculty opening exists, funding for the newly appointed minority faculty member, funding for each department to bring visiting minority scholars to campus and the appointment of a representative from each department who will collect files on members of minority groups who may be candidates for faculty positions at MIT.
"In order to achieve our goal of increasing the number of underrepresented minority faculty at MIT, we must make special efforts to identify, recruit and support such individuals once they are here," said Wrighton in his memorandum.
"While the number of faculty candidates who are members of underrepresented minority groups is perceived to be small, there are many who would be outstanding additions to the MIT faculty," he added.
The percentage of minorities on the MIT faculty, especially in the science and engineering departments is low. In 1980, eight percent of all faculty members were from the underrepresented minorities, while in 1990 14.4 percent were from these groups.
But during this period, the number of minority faculty members fluctuated. From 1990-91, 2.7 percent, or 26 out of 941 of the faculty were from underrepresented minorities, including 13 African-Americans.
"Underrepresented minorities" is defined as all African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans and Native Americans.
Files of minority
candidates to be compiled
In his memorandum, Wrighton asked that by Oct. 15 each department head appoint a senior faculty member to compile files of members of minority groups who may be candidates for faculty positions at MIT.
Wrighton asked that representatives from all departments meet periodically to share experiences and discuss effective means for bringing more minority faculty to MIT. The Provost will meet with the group yearly to review the achievements of the program.
The mechanism of maintaining files on potential minority faculty candidates has already been in place in many departments, said former Department Head of Architecture William L. Porter PhD '69.
"Most of the mechanisms that [Wrighton] talked about in the first place were already in place," said Porter. "But his program is very appropriate and very timely. I'm all for it," he added.
Wrighton's program has three stipulations:
1/3 If no established faculty opening exists and a member of an underrepresented minority group has been identified, a new faculty slot will be created for that person. The new slot will remain with the department as long as the appointee remains on the faculty.
1/3 In a regular faculty search resulting in the appointment of a minority candidate, the general operating budget of the department will be increased by $30,000. At least one-half of this money will be given to the newly appointed faculty member for a period of five years as a "discretionary scholar allowance."
1/3 The Office of the Provost will allocate $200,000 a year to fund the bringing in of visiting minority scholars to the campus to acquaint the MIT community with minority candidates.
Though Wrighton's program has been widely praised, some department heads expressed fear that the program will fail to attract significant numbers of minority faculty. Department heads say that low numbers of minority faculty are hired due to the small pool of available minority applicants. They said that the true solution to the problem would be to aggressively encourage more minority students to attend graduate school and go on to teach.
"I think the program is great," said Department Head of Civil Engineering David H. Marks. "However, the problem lies in the pipeline. One has to start to identify students as undergrads and fund them through graduate school. When we start to look for faculty at the end of the pipeline, there are so few available that it's very difficult to hire them," he said.
"I'm very pro-trying to get minority faculty," said Department Head of Aeronautics and Astronautics Earll M. Murman. "But there is a real lack in the numbers of minority candidates. In the whole United States, one or two minority students graduate with PhDs in Aeronautics and Astronautics. And with every school trying to hire them as faculty, it's very competitive. Also, many students who graduate with PhDs decide to go into other areas like industry rather that academia," he said.
"These are great initiatives by the Provost, but the supply is too small," he added.
Murman said that undergraduate minority students should be actively encouraged to go to graduate school and teaching. In the last year, the percentage of minority undergraduates in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics was four times greater than the percentage of minority graduate students, Murman said.
"I think the provost's program will have a positive impact, but the problem is much deeper," Murman said. "In order to really make a change, minority undergraduates must be really encouraged to attend graduate school."
The Provost's new program comes after Professor of Mechanical Engineering James H. Williams '67 protested against MIT's minority education and hiring policies last spring. Each Wednesday of April, Williams fasted outside the offices of both President Charles M. Vest and Wrighton.
Williams declined to comment on the Provost's new program.