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NEBHE Bestows Diversity Award on Institute

By Kathy Lin


MIT is to receive the first award for “Institutional Achievement in diversity initiatives and community outreach” from the New England Board for Higher Education (NEBHE), on Feb. 28.

MIT’s diversity programs, work with women faculty, and work in increasing the number of underrepresented minorities on campus are among the reasons it was chosen to receive the award, said Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) Professor Cardinal Warde, who nominated MIT for the award.

“This award recognizes MIT’s long-term commitment to achieving a diverse campus community,” Warde said. “The award, hopefully, will give more courage to our administration to pursue our diversity goals as we, along with other prominent institutions of higher education, face criticism for some of the means we have used to achieve diversity, especially with regard to race.”

MIT works to build diversity

This award comes at a time when MIT is very involved in actions related to campus diversity.

On Feb. 10, MIT announced that it would allow high school students of all races to apply to its Minority Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Engineering, and Science program (MITES) and Interphase, after anti-affirmative action groups filed a complaint to the federal government about their generally racially-exclusive admissions policy.

MIT President Charles M. Vest also announced last Friday that it will issue a amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the University of Michigan in maintaining affirmative action as part of the school’s admissions process.

MIT acknowledged disparity

About 47 percent of the current undergraduate population at MIT consists of “African-American, Hispanic-American, and Asian-American undergraduates,” and “there has been steady progress in the numbers and in the percentage of undergraduates who are women,” said Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75.

In 1999, a School of Science committee issued a report, “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT,” on gender inequality problems, which the MIT administration openly acknowledged and promised to address.

“MIT has been upfront and candid in acknowledging the problems facing women faculty on the campus, and is doing something about it,” Warde said.

“Further, MIT has for the past eleven years supported, in conjunction with NEBHE, an annual program to bring under-represented minority students from throughout the six New England states to MIT for mentoring and motivational workshops that encourage this group to consider science and engineering as career options,” Warde said.

Faculty, students applaud diversity

“I believe that most of us believe it is an important responsibility to educate a diverse group of scholars, leaders, and work force for the future,¨ Vest said.

“I’ve met students from all over America and all over the world,” and have “friends from ... Malaysia, Bosnia, and Kazakhstan. Where else but MIT?” asked Shaheer M. Hussam ’03, a member of the Committee on Campus Race Relations (CCRR).

“The atmosphere in my department is very congenial towards women, both graduate students and on the faculty. Once you enter the department, women and men are treated as equal in all respects. This is probably the most effective way to increase the number of women in the profession, eventually,¨ said Esther Duflo, an economics professor who earned tenure earlier this school year.

“I believe that MIT is intellectually and cultural richer because of the diversity within its community,” Warde said.

MIT still has progress to make

“Despite all our best efforts, one would be naive to say MIT is as friendly to many minorities as it is, say, to whites. ... It is my belief that many minorities may have to fight harder than the average white student to keep their head above water, due to factors completely unrelated to their ability,” said Douglas S. J. De Couto G, a member of the CCRR.

Warde noted MIT’s difficulties “in attracting and retaining under-represented faculty -- particularly black faculty -- of any gender” as a particular problem to be worked on.

“We are proud of the broadly diverse undergraduate population at MIT,” said Vest, but “we still have a great deal of progress yet to be made in our graduate population and certainly in our faculty.”