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Faculty Diversification a Slow Process

By Veena Ramaswamy

and Brian Loux

Associate features editors

Over the years, MIT has made a concerted effort to make its faculty attune with the ever-growing diversity of its student body, but the effort to hire more women and minority faculty has been a slow process.

“Our progress toward increasing the number of underrepresented minority faculty members has been painfully slow,” said Provost Robert A. Brown. “We have a long way to go to have a faculty as diverse as a student body.”

The number of faculty members reporting to be Black, Hispanic or Native American rose from 35 in 1993 to 43 in 2002 while the faculty size stayed constant around 950. During the same time period, the number of women faculty increased from 106 to 154.

The 2001-2002 Common Data Set released by the Office of the Provost reported that of MIT’s 1760 instructional faculty members, around 19.9 percent are women and 12.3 percent are minorities.

In comparison, the make-up of MIT’s undergraduate student body is 42 percent women, 6 percent African Americans, 11 percent Hispanic, and 28 percent Asian American. According to the Faculty Search Committee Handbook, over 20 percent of MIT’s faculty is over the age of sixty, and as this group retires in the next five to fifteen years, the effort to recruit a diverse faculty population will become essential.

“Diversity among our faculty and student body enriches the educational and collegial environment of the Institute,” Brown said. “Increasing this diversity by actively recruiting under-represented minorities to the MIT faculty has been and continues to be a goal.”

In 1991, MIT implemented a minority faculty hiring initiative, which awards departments special privileges for each minority scholar they appoint to a regular faculty position, including a $30,000 increase in the department’s operating budget and a new faculty slot with funding. The initiative also includes a system of up-to-date files of potential minority candidates for faculty positions in each department and funding to bring visiting minority scholars to campus.

MLK Visiting Scholars program

The Martin Luther King Visiting Professors Program has helped increase the number of instructional minority faculty since it was created in 1995. The program is designed to bring in professors of any minority group, with an emphasis on African Americans, and has sponsored 34 visiting professors.

The MLK program has made noticeable efforts in diversifying MIT’s faculty. “It has created a presence of minority faculty on campus. Underrepresented minorities have interacted with them. It has been a win-win situation for the entire community,” said Leo Osgood, Co-Chair of the MLK Visiting Professors Program.

Despite efforts of the program, however, MIT should not stop in its efforts in diversifying its faculty.

“I think one thing MIT can do to help improve this situation is actually get students involved,” said Terrence R. Strader ’04, a member of the Committee on Campus Race Relations and of Advocates for Awareness. “If they are trying to recruit minority faculty members, how do we know? That’s the problem with a number of issues here at MIT: the students and faculty not working together to solve some of our problems.”

“We have a long way to go. The core of minority faculty [are] retiring in the next 10 years and we have not done a good job to feed the system,” Osgood said. “There have been improvements, but it’s still not where it should be.”

One of the benefits of a maintaining a diverse faculty at MIT is the creation of an environment that welcomes all races and genders and helps students relate to faculty members.

“Diversifying the faculty with more [minorities] should be the main concern of MIT’s administration. This could have so many benefits ... One being helping out a lot of minority students here at MIT by providing more mentors and role models for them,” Strader said.

“It’s inspirational and motivational to see someone who looks like you and who you can relate to,” said Veronica A. Andrews ’05. “I personally learn better from women ... because they might have a different teaching style or provide a different perspective. I also feel less intimidated approaching a woman professor.”

Women faculty face unique challenges

In March of 1999, a report entitled the Status of Women Faculty in the School of Science was published in the faculty newsletter and showed disparities between the challenges women faculty face in comparison to their male colleagues. “Junior women faculty believe ... that family-work conflicts may impact their careers differently from those of their male colleagues,” the Committee on Women Faculty wrote.

The report also added that tenured women tend to feel marginalized and excluded from leadership positions within their departments and on important committees. Following the report, deans of the remaining four schools formed similar committees to analyze the status of women in their respective departments.

Data on past hiring in the School of Engineering indicates that 40 percent of women candidates for faculty positions reject hiring offers, which is almost three times the rate of male candidates. This may indicate differences in recruitment practices based on gender. Last year’s Common Data Set also indicates that women instructional faculty are 15.5 percent more likely to work part time than male faculty.

The statistics for minority and women faculty in tenured positions are even more disjointed. MIT awarded tenure to its first African-American woman only five years ago. A report in 1998 found that 90 percent of the MIT’s tenured faculty and 74 percent of the total faculty were white males. Last year, women made up only 16 percent of faculty on the track to tenure.

MIT continues efforts for diversity

“I think it’s just very difficult to shift the demographic, even if you just hired women,” said Professor Sallie W. Chisholm, an original member of the Committee on Women Faculty.

In response to these reports, MIT has made significant steps toward equality for women faculty, including: appointing more women to academic leadership positions, developing guidelines for hiring women, and new family-friendly policies. Promotion policies have been revised to allow the delay of tenure decision for women who have children, and any faculty member who is the primary caregiver to a family member can receive paid release from teaching and service for one semester.

Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Department Head Ronald G. Prinn points out that that as the academic level increases, more and more imbalances exist within the EAPS department. For example, while the demographics for the undergraduate class is almost even, the percentages of males become larger and larger as people more to graduate student, assistant professors, associate professors, professors, and tenured professors.

“Clearly, the pool is there. What we need to know is what are their career choices. We need to understand why they do not choose academia over research labs and industry,” Prinn said.

There are a number of theories about why this happens. Some argue that higher academia still feels like an old boys club, which perpetuates the stereotype by driving others away.

“I think some will think that increased awareness of the problem will reduce the [inequities], but the fact that more women faculty are accumulating will help,” Chisholm said.

But Prinn argues that to find a real solution, we as a community may need to do some soul-searching. “It’s not going to be an easy change,” he said. “There is no silver bullet here.”