Recruitment of Minority Students Gives Biased View of Reality
The spectacle of MIT administrators beating their chests in anguish because of the paucity of underrepresented minorities here is becoming a regular feature for The Tech. Your article on minority graduate student enrollment ["MIT Unchanged in Minority PhDs," Feb. 8] has some prize quotes. "If there are any excellent students of color out there, we ought to be able to attract them," enthuses Isaac Colbert, associate dean of the Graduate School. Beautiful sentiment, but unfortunately the commonly sought PhD is in education. Is Colbert proposing that we start an education school?
Clarence Williams, special assistant to the president and assistant equal opportunity officer, implies that we have enough departments, but they aren't properly administered: "The problem lies in departments that make the decisions." Would the problem be fixed if departments accepted every minority student who applied?
Apparently not, Colbert returns to claim. Society is at fault. He wants to "point [secondary school] students to math, science, and engineering." If these are such great careers, how come Colbert himself has chosen paper shuffling? When he is singing the praises of "Nerddom" to a high school class and one of the students asks him what happens after graduate school, does he mention that there are about 750 applicants for every engineering professorship these days? Does he wax rhapsodic about the wonderful physics PhD thesis published by the cab driver who brought him from the airport?
Colbert goes on to decry the fact that black and Latino males are "enmeshed in our legal system (i.e., either imprisoned, under indictment, or with previous criminal records)." Frankly, although the living conditions may be similar, I doubt that prison is a common alternative to MIT graduate school. Someone who was prepared for a career in science or engineering but didn't end up here would be more likely to be found in law, medical, or business school. Should we shed tears for a promising minority undergrad who passed up the big career opportunities in computer science ("I get my own cubicle, PC, and C compiler, and $50,000 per year after seven years of grad school? That's better than I expected!") or for medical school ("I only get paid $250,000 per year to be a radiologist and look at slides six hours a day? I worked so hard in med school for four years; I deserve more!")?
Perhaps instead of trying to fix all of society's problems, we should look a little more closely at the actual experience of an MIT graduate student. What if the plethora of high-powered administrators mentioned in the article were reassigned from minority enrollment hand-wringing to corporate fund-raising? We could use the new funds to raise stipends. How many people think a $1,000 per month increase in the research assistant stipend would be more likely to attract a minority graduate student than a letter from any combination of administrators?
Philip G. Greenspun G