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FAculty Minority Recuriting Produces Limited Successes

By Karen Kaplan
Executive Editor

After one year of recruiting, efforts to increase the number of women and minorities on the faculty here have produced mixed results and limited success. MIT officials acknowledge that more aggressive work is needed to diversify the faculty at MIT.

"We're doing very well with attracting women, not as well as I would like, but there has been some success. For minority faculty, I would say we're not doing as well," said Provost Mark S. Wrighton, who last year initiated programs to encourage each department to recruit more women and minorities to its faculty.

A year later, the numbers tell the story plainly. Of the 10 senior faculty members hired at MIT during the year that ended June 30, nine are men and one is a woman. One of them is an African-American. These figures include both professors and associate professors.

At the assistant professor level, 48 people were hired during the same period. Fourteen of them are women, one is black, two are Hispanic-Americans, and five are Asian-Americans.

"I'd like to say there's more that can be done," said Wrighton. He warned that if hiring trends do not improve, "we won't be any better off at the end of the decade than we are right now with respect to diversity."

However, a closer look at each stage of the hiring process reveals more progress than the final hiring figures imply. MIT receives thousands of applications for assistant professorships, and among the applicants in the pool, the ratio of men to women last year was approximately five to one. Among the finalists, that ratio dropped to three to one, and offers were made to twice as many men as women. In the end, 34 men and 14 women were appointed to the faculty.

For higher-ranking professorships, there were 15 male finalists and 16 female finalists. Eleven of the men but only two of the women were later offered positions, a dramatic shift. Wrighton said that at that level, MIT makes offers only to those who are virtually certain to accept them, and the low number of offers made to women may partially reflect their reluctance to accept them.

Wrighton pointed to these declining ratios of men to women as a measure of success. He also said the numbers demonstrate how "skewed" the pool of candidates is. He called the overall ratios "discouraging," but said, "It's still better than the existing ratio on the current faculty." Currently 10 percent of the faculty are female.

Of the 634 applications received for upper-level professors and associate professors, only 3 were from members of underrepresented minority groups, which includes blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans. One of those three made the first cut in the hiring process, and he was eventually hired.

At the associate professor level, 34 blacks, 24 Hispanics, two Native Americans and 172 Asians were among the 4,087 applicants considered. Four of the blacks were finalists, all of them were offered faculty positions, and one joined the faculty. Six of the Hispanic applicants were finalists, three received offers, and two accepted.

Among the Asian applicants, 18 were finalists and five were offered positions. All five joined the faculty. Neither of the Native Americans made it to the finalist level.

"It's not a lack or money or a lack of aggression" that prevented the numbers from being higher, he added. "People are working very hard to find candidates."

`People turn us down'

Some part of the recruitment process is also out of MIT's hands. "We have a good record until we get to the point where people turn us down," Wrighton said.

Wrighton said that many minority candidates perceive the Boston area as a racist place to live, and he added that this perception may have a hand in keeping away some of the minority candidates that receive offers. "There's a perception among some of the minority candidates that Boston is not a warm place to pursue a life. MIT is not responsible for that, but we can do things to change the perception and the reality," he said.

For example, since the end of June, when the statistics were compiled, MIT made an offer to a black candidate, but he decided to take a position at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. "Georgia Tech is a good school, but it's not as good as MIT," Wrighton said. "When we lose someone to Georgia Tech, it doesn't make me feel completely comfortable when I think we're better."

Robert J. Birgeneau, dean of the School of Science, related a similar story. "We made a good offer to a young black person in biology who ended up going to [the California Institute of Technology] instead of MIT because they wanted to go to the West Coast. We're in a bidding war for all good candidates -- minority, women, or otherwise," he said.

The same goes for the School of Engineering. "In each of the last three years, the School of Engineering has attempted to recruit an underrepresented minority for a faculty position here," said Joel Moses PhD '67, dean of the engineering school. "All three of those offers were declined, however," he said.

Although MIT has not been as successful in "landing" candidates who receive offers, Wrighton said that, unlike in past years, the staff here would be keeping an eye on the people who went to other schools, in anticipation of perhaps making new offers for tenured positions to them.

Variation among schools

The Sloan School of Management appears to have made the largest gains in increasing diversity -- of the three new assistant professors hired there, two are Hispanic men and one is an Asian woman.

Wrighton said that Dean of the Sloan School of Management Lester C. Thurow "has done an outstanding job of changing the mix of faculty in an astonishingly short period of time."

The School of Engineering hired 11 male and four female associate professors last year, a ratio generally regarded as good.

Moses said three factors contributed to the school's success in recruiting women to the faculty there. "First, the other major engineering schools with whom we compete for faculty dramatically reduced the number of new hires. Second, the pool of qualified women candidates continues to grow. Third, there was continued emphasis placed on affirmative action by the senior administration."

However, although two Asians were among the 15 new hires, no underrepresented minorities were added to the School of Engineering faculty last year. Moses said the small number of qualified underrepresented minorities makes recruitment very difficult. "Nationwide, 43 engineering doctorates were awarded to African-Americans, 51 to Hispanics, and 6 to Native Americans last year. Over 550 were awarded to women," he pointed out.

"The School of Engineering is where we need to make the greatest strides in terms of increasing diversity," said Wrighton.

The numbers are bleaker in the School of Science: two white men were hired at the professor and associate professor level, and at the assistant professor level, eleven men (one of them an Asian American) and three women were hired.

Birgeneau said the small number of potential applicants was partly to blame for the dearth of new underrepresented minorities on the faculty in the School of Science.

"It's a statistical fact that the pool of underrepresented minorities is quite small," he said. "In fact, MIT has played a leadership role in educating underrepresented minorities, but there has been a trend, at least in science, to suggest that our own graduates go elsewhere. We have to put more effort into keeping our own minority graduate students here at MIT. The basic issue is that the pool is extremely small."

Birgeneau said he is "sanguine" about the number of women hired in the School of Science, and said the growing diversity of students in science makes him optimistic about the future. "Within the next decade we're going to see a marked change in the makeup of the faculty," he said.