The Admissions Answers
During the last few months affirmative action in admissions has come under fire from a variety of corners, including most recently a column in the Faculty Newsletter by Kerry Emanuel '76, professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences. Unfortunately, much of this discussion has taken place without a good review of what MIT's admission policies actually are. Before a dialogue can take place, members of the community should be aware of what policies constitute the status quo.
If the current affirmative action policies in admissions are attended by a good deal of confusion, the complexity of those policies are partly to blame. Although many students may be under the impression that admission to the Institute is based primarily on college board scores and grades, this is not the case. The admission board breaks the information in the application into two groups, quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative score is figured by computer, and the subjective part is determined by application readers. Grades, class rank, and test scores figure prominently in the quantitative half of the analysis.
The qualitative score, however, rests primarily on questions of community involvement and academic ambition. Application reviewers try to determine, for example, if applicants distinguished themselves in an activity outside of academia. MIT looks at community involvement and academic excellence in roughly the same proportions. The purpose of this is to bring students to MIT who will both succeed academically and contribute something to the Institute community.
Where does affirmative action enter the picture?
Affirmative action in admissions is primarily seen in MIT's recruitment process. MIT recruits heavily among women, underrepresented minorities, and so-called "academic superstars" - those handful of students who have distinguished themselves in nationally recognized science contests. Recruitment takes many forms, both subtle and obvious. Programs such as Interphase and Campus Preview Weekend provide tangible events to encourage prospective candidates to apply or come to the Institute, while small changes in admissions literature and videos play a less dramatic role.
The current affirmative action policy in admissions is a balanced and appropriate way of bringing a diverse group of qualified students to campus. MIT does not lower its standards or subject applicants to different standards, nor does it abide by any system of quotas for women or underrepresented minorities.
That having been said, it is unfortunate that the Admissions Office has made little effort to participate in the current discussions and clarify its policies on affirmative action in admissions. Students and faculty alike are concerned about whether MIT's policies in this area are appropriate. Clarification from the Admissions Office may not end the debate, but it will allow it to proceed in a more informed manner.
MIT's affirmative action policies in admissions represent a balanced approach to attracting the best possible students to campus. It is unfortunate the incipient dialogue on affirmative action has been left without the benefit of a more concrete statement on its behalf from those who know the process best.