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Attack on Affirmative Action in Admissions Sparks Debate

By Zareena Hussain
Associate News Editor

An essay in the current edition of the Faculty Newsletter which discusses ill-effects of current affirmative action admissions policies on populations of underrepresented minorities at the Institute has caused a wide array of reactions among administrators and students about the future of admissions policy.

In an essay entitled, "What Price Diversity?" Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Kerry Emanuel '76 asserts that in the hopes of increasing and maintaining campus diversity as stated by the Association of American Universities, affirmative action policies act only as a detriment to minority undergraduates. He also states that the admission of underqualified minorities contributes to a domino effect in which the bottom of each class at all universities is disproportionately composed of minority students.

MITcurrently supports affirmative action policies for undergraduate admissions.

"MIT, through its faculty committees, senior officers, and trustees has maintained a firm commitment to the importance, and in my view responsibility, to develop a diverse academic community. My own views were spelled out in some detail in my president's report last year. I also strongly supported the unanimous adoption of the statement by the Association of American Universities referred to by Professor Emanuel," Vest said.

"I do not believe that MIT's actions to promote opportunity and advance diversity are detrimental to minorities," Vest said.

Emanuel cites ill-effects

In addition to the domino effect Emanuel cites, he goes on to enumerate several other ill-effects of affirmative action policies.

"Qualified applicants are turned away in favor of less qualified applicants. Minorities fail at alarming rates. Those minorities who would have been admitted under a race-blind policy nevertheless experience self-doubt and are stigmatized as part of the underqualified group."

He extends the argument in saying that affirmative action policies cause elementary and high school teachers to not challenge minority students academically.

"If minorities can be admitted to MITwith a 650 SAT score, why strive to raise them to the 750 level?" conjectures Emanuel as to the state of mind of many K-12 educators.

In conclusion, he calls on the Institute to no longer take into account race and gender when admitting students.

Essay begins to stir debate

The essay has elicited a wide-ranging response by individuals although no group, including the MITadmissions office, has offered an official response.

Among the strongest arguments against Emanuel's position come from Associate Dean and Head of the Office of Minority Education Leo Osgood. Osgood was quoted in Emanuel's essay as pointing out the low retention rate of minorities at the Institute. Emanuel used these dropout rates to in part support his claims that marginally qualified and underqualified minorities are offered admission to MIT.

"Professor Emanuel, who chaired the Committee on Academic Performance, knows very well that there are a variety of reasons why students leave MIT. His thesis does not coincide with his assumption and should not be taken as a factual representation of the academic performance of a targeted group of students attending MIT," Osgood said.

Emanuel said that these statistics were brought to his attention when he served as the head of the CAP and not from a discussion of Affirmative Action Policy.

"He did not tell me, he did not consult with me and Ido not confirm any information he attributes to me," Osgood said.

Emanuel conceded that he doesn't know whether required withdrawals, which he states were composed of between 33 and 55 percent minority were due solely to academic performance or rather withdrawals based upon financial considerations.

Students affected by comments

Some students have also taken Emanuel's comments as a personal affront to the status of their admission to MIT.

"Professor Emanuel speaks of a domino effect where Œunderqualified' minority students are admitted at each tier of institution. I would instead study a far more important domino effect, the one where minority students go to poorer schools, have lower expectations placed upon them, have parents who are not as well educated and who have little understanding of the education their children are seeking, have few minority teachers, mentors, and educational role models," and as a result do not perform as well on the SAT, said Richard C. Rosalez '98, an intern in the MIT admissions office.

"This professor has to realize that a lot of minority students come out of pathetic schools that didn't offer physics or calculus. Does that mean we shouldn't be here? That doesn't mean we're not intelligent; it simply means that we didn't have the resources that some of the other students that come here have," said Aisha D. Stroman '00.

Admissions lack faculty input

Newly named Director of MITadmissions Marilee Jones explained the admissions process with respect to minorities. Minority admissions "is like all admissions," Jones said. Underrepresented minorities are "on the table with everybody else."

The main difference Jones said was that all qualified minority applicants are accepted whereas that may not be the case with applicants who do not fall into pools of underrepresented minorities.

In addition, she also called upon members of the faculty to become actively involved in reading applications. Currently, about ten members of the faculty participate in a given year of admissions decisions, Jones said.

"Fundamentally I want them to understand what we're doing here is what they would do," Jones said.

Emanuel responds

Emanuel stated he wrote the article to elicit a discussion from the community.

"We must not be afraid to debate issues, however sensitive," Emanuel said. Part of this debate also includes getting faculty input involved in the admissions process, he said.

One big problem is "battling the lack of self-confidence" among minority students who think falsely that they were admitted because of affirmative action policies. "They think they must be here because of some special program," Emanuel said.

Emmanuel said that he had "no intent to offend or suggest that someone here doesn't belong here."