MIT will increase women on campus
By Karen Kaplan
From undergraduate admissions to senior faculty appointments, MIT is looking to increase the number of women within its ranks.
"Looking over the next 10 to 15 years, over 85 percent of new entrants into the labor force will be either minorities or women," said Michael C. Behnke, director of admissions. "In the case of both those populations, we feel it is absolutely essential that MIT play a lead role in giving them access to an MIT education and to encourage them to think about careers in engineering and science."
Although the admissions office has no special policy for women, "there are two things that we do," Behnke said. These include making a "special effort to recruit women" and a "post-admission program," he said.
In order to make sure that a substantial number of women are admitted into each undergraduate class, the admissions office heavily recruits high school women so that there are plenty of qualified applicants to choose from.
"We use the Student Search Service more heavily for women. When [members of the admissions staff] are visiting high schools, we try to visit those where our information indicates we're more likely to see . . . women students. We also have special efforts to recruit both women and minority students
[el6p]who are particularly well qualified with special letters and phone calls," Behnke said.
Women's Weekend in the spring is the largest part of the post-admissions program for women. "We want to give women a chance to get on campus, talk to people here, and hopefully make the best decision they can based on the maximum amount of information," he said.
Behnke said MIT does not have an official affirmative action admissions policy for women. If there were such a policy, like the one that exists for members of underrepresented minority groups, "it would change things to some extent. . . . We turn down a number of well-qualified women students because they are competing against male students for the same spots. If we had an affirmative action program, we probably wouldn't be doing that," he said.
Test scores lower for women
"We are aware as we make [admissions] decisions that women score somewhat lower on standardized tests, so we take that into account," Behnke said. "We feel that has more to do with the
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tests than with women. Women as a whole slightly outperform men at MIT. They also have a higher retention rate."
Because their test scores are lower, women students often feel as if they were admitted by accident or to fill a quota, according to Mary P. Rowe, Institute ombudsman and special assistant to the president.
"Women who came here have been worried that they were accepted as special cases, that MIT only accepted them because they were women," she said. "It's a very persistent myth, but the aggregate data shows that that's not true."
Rowe cited a study conducted by Institute Professor Mildred S. Dresselhaus which showed that women here were more likely to take leadership positions in student clubs as evidence that women students were not less qualified than other students.
More women sought for
faculty positions as well
Recruitment of women here is not limited to undergraduate admissions. In August, Provost Mark S. Wrighton announced a new program aimed at increasing the number of women on the MIT faculty. The aggressive three-part program includes a fund to bring women to MIT as "faculty visitors and distinguished lecturers," special funding incentives for departments to appoint women to professorship positions, and increased emphasis on the Ellen Swallow Richards Professorship, which is used to attract outstanding senior women to the faculty.
The program came in response to recommendations made by the Equal Opportunity Committee. "It seemed that the number of women had settled at around 100," which means that only 10 percent of the faculty are women, Wrighton said. "In contrast, 35 percent of the Class of 1995 are women.
"It seems to us that as women are being educated to higher degrees, we should take definite steps to encourage networking, finding women early in their careers, and making special efforts to recruit them to MIT," he continued.
Wrighton stressed the importance of having women on the faculty. "I do believe that diversity on the faculty leads to diversity of interests and achievements. I do believe there is an important mentorship role," he said.
Anita M. Killian '85, academic administrator for the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, agreed that women mentors would enhance the faculty. "I really think we need more women in academic leadership roles," she said.
Killian said she believes MIT should aggressively recruit women to the faculty because "There are only a few [well-qualified women] out there, and the competition for them is high. What will make a woman want to come here is that . . . this is a community that will accept her. We need to show women that there is a place for them here.
"It's been proven with the student population that allowing more women [into MIT] enhances the climate. I think the same will be true for faculty as well," Killian continued.
In the two months since the program began, Wrighton reported that "at least two" women faculty have been "added to departments in connection with those programs."