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Vest Emphasizes Need for Institute To Remain Committed to Diversity

By Cristin A. Gonzlez
Technology Director

In his annual report, President Charles M. Vest focused on MIT's commitment to affirmative action and to research and education through the pursuit of innovations in a variety of different fields.

"Boldness and openness are qualities that we as a nation must seek to reserve and advance.We in America's research universities have a particular duty to do so," Vest said.

Vest said that the Institute's affirmative action policy is "still essential to move us toward the integrated, cohesive society we will need in the years ahead."

The increased access to colleges and universities that different sections of the population have enjoyed is one of the main reasons that institutions are becoming more diverse racially, culturally, and economically, Vest said.

"The presence and role of women on our campuses have improved dramatically. Still, most campuses can not be judged to be broadly representative of the makeup of contemporary America," Vest said.

MIT, along with other universities, has been trying to increase the presence of minorities in its campus. "I think it's been a strong policy in that MIT does have a diverse student body population," said Director of the Office of Minority Education Leo Osgood, Jr.

"I think MIT can be seen as a beacon in this area for the country, which I believe is being driven by emotionalism versus facts," Osgood said.

Openness important to MIT

"If this nation is to thrive - economically, socially, politically - we must do all we can to ensure that all of our citizens are able to reach their full potential," Vest said. "Only then will we realize the full benefits to be found in a society peopled with different cultures, races, and nationalities."

Vest stressed that "effectively addressing issues of race and diversity is too essential to the future of the United States to allow it to be dissipated in partisan rhetoric. Maintaining our momentum is too urgent to allow it to be defined away through narrow, technical judicial decisions."

There is, however, a lot to be done. "I think we have come a way down that road but we still have a long way to go," Osgood said.

"As we move to the 21st century the demographics show a society with people from diverse backgrounds in the work force. College is a good place for people to learn to work with people of different social and economics backgrounds and feel comfortable working with them," Osgood said.

The time may come when affirmative action programs are no longer necessary, "but for now, we still have a compelling need for proactive efforts, despite calls by some that what is needed instead is simply stronger enforcement of anti-discrimination laws," Vest said.

Vest also explained the importance of international scholars. "It is an ongoing fact that the excellence of our institutions is due in very large measure to our openness to international scholars. MIT faculty who have received the Nobel Prize include individuals who were born in Japan, India, Italy, and Mexico."

About one third of the PhD degrees in science and engineering given by U.S. universities are earned by foreign students, Vest said. "Openness and meritocracy are what have made our universities great, and we must continue that spirit and philosophy in our national endeavors."

Vest emphasizes teaching

Vest also emphasized the importance of the teaching profession in his report. "These teachers must be supported by our citizenry of all ages, by government at all levels, by the mass media and the entertainment industry, by sports figures, by the criminal justice system, and, above all, by the parents and guardians of the young," he said.

Vest noted that a recent national survey found that the vast majority of Americans want the United States to be the world leader in scientific and technological progress in the next century.

"Educational institutions of higher learning have not taken scientific and technological literacy very seriously," said said former Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs Travis R. Merritt.

"MIT takes it quite seriously, indeed. Other places will require a course or two in science and let it go at that," Merritt said.

Public support of certain projects varies a great deal, Vest said. Some, like the Space Station and Human Genome project, captured the public's general interest and attention and hence have done better than the Superconducting Supercollider and the Magnetic Fusion Program.

It is difficult "to generate such shared vision for basic research that does not hold such immediately recognizable benefits," Vest said.

However, the majority of Americans say that they expect science and technology to solve difficult societal problems and that in order for that to happen, there needs to be investment in research and more emphasis on science in school curricula, he said.

Vest recognized that there is a legitimate concern about how much we can afford to do. He added, however, that "just as we can not saddle the coming generations with our financial debt, neither can we saddle them with our societal debt through lack of concern for the future. We must invest in that future - through education, through research, and through attaining common purpose."

Copyright 19,95, The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was published on Tuesday.
Volume 116, Number 54.
The story began on page 1 and jumped to page 16.

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