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Interphase, MITES to Begin Admitting Non-Minority Applicants

By Nathan Collins


MIT will open two minority-targeted programs to students of all races following a complaint against MIT filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Institute announced yesterday.

The programs, Project Interphase and the Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Science, known as MITES, will now accept applications from students regardless of their race, though race will still factor into admission decisions, MIT said in a statement.

President Charles M. Vest said that MIT will “alter the programs in a provisional way” and work in the next year to find a permanent solution.

“I’ve always been very proud” of the programs, Vest said. “It was very painful to think this all through.”

The change comes as universities across the country nervously review their affirmative action policies in light of a Supreme Court lawsuit challenging the admissions policy at the University of Michigan as illegally discriminatory.

Last week, Princeton University announced it would eliminate an 18-year-old summer program intended to recruit minority students because of liability concerns “in the current legal environment,” the university said in a statement.

Revised programs to keep goals

“After reviewing the programs and relevant law, MIT decided earlier this year to modify the selection criteria while maintaining the critical goals and purposes of these programs,” the MIT statement said.

MIT will work to continue and enhance minority outreach, said Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75.

Clay said he regretted that MIT is changing MITES and Interphase but that he did not regret having the programs.

MITES has “served very well,” he said. “I like to think when you look at the set of our programs,” they have done well, he said.

“The goal was always to attract students” who might not have thought about MIT or might not have thought they could get in, Clay said.

“I’m not sure what an honest university would be doing” if they did not have such programs, he said.

BSU president praises MIT

Kasetta Coleman, president of the Black Students’ Union and an alumnus of the MITES program, said that she is confident that “MIT will continue to attract” a diverse population.

“MIT has done an impeccable job” in supporting programs like MITES and Interphase, Coleman said.

Clay and Vest met with leaders of minority student groups, including the BSU, last night to discuss the decision.

“There was some sadness and some hope that the change does not reflect a reduction in our commitment” to MIT’s minority student programs, Clay said, adding that he and Vest affirmed MIT’s commitment to minority recruitment.

Coleman said that MITES was “one of the most important factors” in her deciding to come to MIT. The program, along with the Freshman Leadership Program, “helped me figure out how to succeed” at MIT, she said.

“I think the program can continue to be successful” because MIT is committed to diversity, she said.

Complaint filed several months ago

The complaint against MIT was made several months ago and asserted that the programs were racially exclusive, Clay said, stressing that there had been no formal government investigation as a result.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits some discriminatory practices at institutions that receive federal money. Neither MITES or Interphase receives federal money directly, but because MIT receives federal money, the programs fall under the law’s purview.

Clay said he was unaware of the details of the complaint since it came to MIT through the Department of Education’s civil rights office.

The BSU first formulated Interphase in 1969. The program invites fifty underrepresented minority students to campus for eight weeks of rigorous academics and an introduction to the Boston area.

MITES, a similar program for about fifty minority high-schoolers, sends about thirty percent of its students to MIT, former MITES director William H. Ramsey ’51 said in 1995.

Eun J. Lee contributed to the reporting of this story.