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MIT Remains in Favor Of Affirmative Action

By David D. Hsu
News editor

In the midst of the national debate generated by the University of California's recent decision to abandon its affirmative action policy, MIT has reaffirmed its commitment to affirmative action and equal employment.

"We must recognize and draw on the full range of talents brought to us by men and women from many different racial, cultural, economic, and ethnic backgrounds," said President Charles M. Vest in a written statement earlier this year.

The University of California's Board of Regents voted in July to end hiring and admissions based on race, sex, or ethnic origin. The board's ruling affects all nine University of California campuses.

After the California decision, Vest told Vice President for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity Officer Joan F. Rice that "he wanted MITto continue to seek for more diversity in faculty and staff," Rice said.

"The necessity of acting affirmatively to establish a diverse academic community will end when society becomes essentially free of race or gender-based barriers to success. I wish I could foresee this occurring within five years, but the historic slow pace of change doesn't give much evidence that this is likely," Vest said.

Administrators by and large agree with the Institute's policy. "I think it's developed over the years to be a very strong policy," said Director of Admissions Michael C. Behnke. "The policy has attracted a good number of minorities. Employers often come to MIT because MIT is a source of outstanding minorities."

"Judging from the political climate, I don't believe we'd ever reach that point" when affirmative action is not needed, Behnke said.

Special recruiting efforts used

MIT's admissions and hiring policies are geared toward that end.

For undergraduate admissions, affirmative action involves special recruiting efforts toward underrepresented minorities and women, Behnke said. Blacks, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans constitute underrepresented minorities.

The special recruiting efforts are not substantially different but intensified for these groups, Behnke said. More visits and more calls are made to underrepresented minorities, he said.

Programs like the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science help build the applicant pool, Behnke said. As far as admission goes, it "really depends on the quality of the applicant pool," he said.

Despite the extra effort, there are no quotas for underrepresented minorities, Behnke said. "If the student is a minority in one of our target groups, we try to admit all the students who are well qualified."

The policy ought not be used as a defense for hiring or admissions. "No one owns a job; no one owns a place in a university. There will always be a person who gets in and one who doesn't," Rice said.

Admission is not based solely on grade point average, Behnke said. "We always try to take into account the content of the application."

Grad admission policies vary

While administration officials are generally satisfied with the Institute's affirmative action plan, "we have been less effective to date in building our graduate student body, and inadequate in building our faculty and staff," Vest said.

MIT's graduate admissions policy varies from department to department, said Acting Dean of the Graduate School Isaac M. Colbert.

Colbert did say that minorities are not considered separately for either financial aid or admissions.

"Departments make decisions independently," Colbert said. Still, they "keep an eye out for highly qualified, motivated underrepresented minorities."

Individual schools and departments have initiated several programs like minority summer research programs to help recruit prospective minority graduate students, he said.

Minorities are not considered separately for financial aid, but the "Institute has funds that we use to assist departments bring in students of color," Colbert said. If a department wants to bring in more minorities, MITmay pick up some of the tuition on a case by case basis.

Labor Department reviews hiring

Unlike admissions, there are no overrepresented minorities in hiring, Rice said. That means that all minorities and women benefit from affirmative action. While a group like Asian Americans make up almost 30 percent of the student body, that is not true for faculty and staff, she said.

Every year, the federal Department of Labor conducts a compliance review of MIT, Rice said. The government asks the Institute for statistical data including salaries, number of minorities, females, and people with disabilities hired.

On the basis of their review, the Department of Labor can provide recommendations or issue violations if the Institute is not making an effort in providing equal opportunity employment, Rice said.

Because of social stereotypes, MIT should work to "recruit qualified women and minority group members to job categories which traditionally have been occupied predominantly by white males," Rice said in MIT's affirmative action plan.

MITthen must be concerned with attracting minorities and women and ensuring that they can smoothly move into traditionally white male environments, she said.