The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 71.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Minority, Women Faculty Recruitment Moves Slowly

By Stacey E. Blau
News Editor

Despite moderate progress in the past several years, academic department heads believe that the Institute must continue to strive for greater numbers of women and minority faculty.

"The process is slow because we are trying to move ahead an agenda in the face of historical trends," said President Charles M. Vest.

"The numbers of women and minorities are just now approaching reasonable levels in the MIT undergraduate population, which is considerably ahead of science and engineering schools nationwide," he said.

Currently, women comprise 11 percent, or 105, of MIT's tenure-track faculty. From 5.5 percent in 1980 to 9 percent in 1985 to 10 percent in 1990, "this rate of increase is too slow," Vest said.

"African American and Hispanic American faculty have changed little in number over the last twenty years," Vest said. The high point is the current figure of 3.75 percent, or 35 members. Seven percent of the faculty, or 65 members, are Asian American.

"Building a diverse faculty with a more appropriate gender balance is both extremely difficult and extremely important. We are doing better in the junior ranks, but it remains an uphill battle. Maintaining a welcoming, supportive environment is essential," Vest said.

The main problem is that there is not "a balance in graduate programs that produce faculty members and there certainly wasn't 20 and 30 years ago when senior faculty were educated."

Progress remains sluggish

"The Institute has made significant progress in developing women and minority faculty. We still have significantly more to do," said Professor Phillip A. Sharp, head of the Department of Biology.

"During the past several years, 25 percent of the junior faculty recruited by the Department of Biology have been women. These are an excellent group of young scientists who are contributing enormously to our education and research program," Sharp said.

"We have five senior women faculty members in the department which is roughly 10 percent of the total," Sharp said. "These are very distinguished scientists."

"In the future, I expect the percentage of female faculty members in the Biology Department to grow," Sharp added.

One key part of shaping what future faculty will look like takes place in selecting post-doctoral scientists and graduate students, Sharp said.

"At the moment about 25 percent of the pool of post-doctoral scientists that apply to the department are women. For over a decade, about half of our graduate students have been women," he said.

Institute policies help Course I

In the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, "we have had a fair amount of success in hiring women and minority faculty," said Professor Rafael L. Bras '72, head of the department. "MIT's policies have helped very much."

The department currently has seven women and six men from underrepresented ethnic groups in the faculty, including two Hispanic Americans, one African American, two of Chinese origin, and one of Korean origin.

"Certainly we are much better off than a few years ago, particularly relative to women in the faculty," Bras said.

"We've been pretty aggressive in trying to identify good women and minority faculty," said Professor Thomas H. Jordan, head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

In the EAPS faculty of 40, there are presently two underrepresented minority and four women faculty members. "We've always had [recruiting minority faculty] as a high priority," Jordan said.

As a result, the department has been able to "provide a very good environment for women and minority students." More than 50 percent of the department's top graduate applicants are women, Jordan said.

"I think we're all discouraged about the small numbers of underrepresented minorities," Jordan said. "Everybody would like to do better," including EAPS, he said.

Diverse faculty important to EECS

"Currently, our faculty of somewhat over 100 includes one black professor and seven women. I believe more minority and women faculty are needed for us to achieve the various benefits of diversity," said Professor Paul L. Penfield Jr. ScD '60, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

"A diverse faculty can carry out the mission of our department better than a non-diverse one," Penfield said. "The primary mission of our department is to help our students get the best possible education and professional development," he said.

Increasing numbers of MIT students are women or minority members. "They cannot do their best if they believe that their chosen profession is one in which only white American males can succeed at the highest levels," Penfield said.

The normal search process for new faculty "works well for white males, and it yields an acceptable number of junior women. However, there is still a shortage of senior women faculty and of minority faculty," Penfield said.

"We still want to maintain an absolute test of quality" for all candidates, he said. "That is still a very high hurdle," he said.

"It has been suggested that the most effective thing we, as a department, can do to address faculty diversity on the national level would be to increase the number of women and minority members in our own doctoral program," Penfield said.

Trend is better in humanities

"We've improved our record in the past few years in terms of women and minority hiring," said Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Phillip S. Khoury. "But it is by no means a success story, particularly for minorities. For women, it is better."

Women make up nearly 25 percent of the faculty in the School of Humanities. But minorities comprise less than only 10 percent.

"In humanities, it is stronger -- but not much stronger -- than the sciences," Khoury said.

"The situation in the humanities hiring pools is probably better," said Professor Peter S. Donaldson, head of the literature section.

"We have a higher proportion of women and minorities in literature," he said. Currently, the literature faculty has four female faculty members and one minority faculty member.

"Effort is needed to make sure there is adequate representation around the Institute," Donaldson said. The literature section has "very strong possibilities for hiring women and minority faculty in the next year or so," he said.