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Minorities Join Faculty Slowly

By Rishi Shrivastava
Staff Reporter

In September 1991, Provost Mark S. Wrighton announced an Institute initiative to increase the number of underrepresented minority faculty at MIT. Since this declaration, five minority professors were hired in fiscal year 1993, and four were hired in fiscal year 1992.

The initiative continues this year, but no hires have been made in the recently begun fiscal year.

Although the program has increased underrepresented minority recruitment, Wrighton said that it has not been as successful as he would have liked. Still, he added that the program has helped expose the problem of minority representation and also has increased networking efforts to better target potential minority candidates. Wrighton added, faculty recruiters "are extending themselves in ways I find very appropriate."

Underrepresented minorities include African Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans.

The increase in underrepresented minority faculty came at a time when the total number of professors hired dropped from 58 to 43. During this period, the number of recruited Asian Americans, who are not considered underrepresented minorities, dropped from 5 to 1.

The lack of minority faculty members, however, is seen at universities nationwide. This is mainly because few underrepresented minorities earn PhDs in a given year.

For example, only "one or two minority students graduate with PhDs in Aeronautics and Astronautics" in the United States annually, said Head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics Earll M. Murman in 1991.

Also, few minorities with PhDs choose to work in academia. Instead, they often accept more lucrative industry jobs. Wrighton said that MIT needs to encourage PhDs to enter academic professions.

Wrighton attributed the drop in Asian hiring to inevitable yearly fluctuations in hiring practices, and he reinforced the need to increase Asian representation "in positions of leadership."

Initiative promotes minority hiring

According to a statement issued by Wrighton this year, the 1991 program includes three planks:

* When no faculty opening exists, the administration will award a new slot with funding to a department that appoints a member of an underrepresented minority group to a regular position.

* If a department recruits a minority professor through a regular faculty search, the general operating budget of that department increases by $30,000. For a period of five years, half of this increase must be made available as a discretionary scholar allowance.

* Funding ($200,000 in 1991) will be available in the Office of the Provost to recruit underrepresented minority groups as visiting professors, visiting scholars, visiting lecturers, or post-doctoral associates. The aim is to acquaint MIT with outstanding minority candidates.

The initiative should not be interpreted as a quota program, said Judy F. Jackson, associate dean and director of the Office of Minority Education. "There are too few minority professors at MIT for any effort to be labeled a quota program," she said.

Jackson added that affirmative action "is not an evil concept, despite its misinterpretation by a great many people, [but] merely implies that it's okay to hire the qualified minority ... to increase that particular ethnic or gender representation in the work force."

She also said that "the student body would be more greatly enriched ... if students are taught by some of the people who represent that world."