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MIT Technology Review

A More Inclusive MIT

Committee releases landmark report on minority faculty

February 23, 2010

MIT has made gains toward hiring and retaining more black, Hispanic, and Native American faculty members but must do more to recruit members of these underrepresented minority groups and foster a culture of inclusion, according to a report released in January by the Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity.

The product of two and a half years of research and analysis by a team of nine MIT faculty members led by chemical-engineering professor Paula T. Hammond ‘84, PhD ‘93, the report concludes that underrepresented minorities on the MIT faculty may experience a different professional environment from their colleagues and that efforts to increase their number have had uneven results across the Institute. It encourages MIT to work with peer institutions to expand the pipeline for minority talent. (See the full report at
web.mit.edu/provost/raceinitiative/.)

“As an institution that prides itself on the ability to address some of the world’s most difficult problems, MIT can and should lead the nation in the important challenge of increasing the numbers of minority faculty via a strong Institute-wide policy that facilitates advancement in the area of faculty diversity,” the report says.

Provost L. Rafael Reif, who launched the initiative in 2007, says that the MIT administration accepts the report’s findings. “This report highlights important issues of race and diversity on our MIT campus and supports our ongoing commitment to integrating a culture of inclusion into the fabric of the Institute,” he says. “MIT wants, and our students deserve, the strongest possible faculty, and a more diverse faculty is a stronger faculty in all academic dimensions, from research to teaching to mentoring.”

“A richly diverse America does not await us, it is upon us; it is our present and our future,” President Susan Hockfield wrote in a letter to the MIT community. “Creating a culture of inclusion is not an optional exercise; it is the indispensable precondition that enables us to capitalize on our diverse skills, perspectives, and experiences, so that we can better advance the fundamental research and education mission of MIT.”

The report identifies several areas for improvement, from mentoring to recruiting practices. For example, says Hammond, because MIT recruits heavily from among its own graduates and those of a few peer institutions, it may overlook outstanding members of underrepresented minority groups who were educated at other schools. The report also found strengths that the Institute can build on; for instance, she says, MIT has trained a large number of minority scholars now working at institutions around the world, including some current MIT faculty members. The Institute could use this network to expand the pool of qualified minority candidates.

“I remain convinced that MIT is a great place with regard to its general goodwill and its ability to implement change on some of the most difficult problems,” Hammond says. “However, there do remain difficult discussions in the future …. Until there is a higher value placed on diversity issues by our general faculty, we will have a climate that is less congenial to those who come with differences.”

Hockfield and Reif have begun the process of reviewing the report with the academic deans. Reif and the committee will soon meet with each school to discuss how to implement its recommendations.