MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVIII No. 5
May / June 2006
Meritocracy and a Diverse Faculty
A Brief History and Workings
of the MIT Corporation
Committees of the Faculty:
An End-of-Year Recap
Lippard and Sharp Awarded
National Medal of Science
Energy Research Council and Forum:
A Major New Institute Initiative
Efficient Use of Energy:
Part of MIT's New Energy Initiative
Fueling Our Transportation Future
Lighting a Fire in MIT's
Undergradute Education
Some Thoughts on the Arts
Reflections on the "Visualizing Cultures" Incident
On the "Visualizing Cultures" Controversy and its Implications
Communication Requirement
Evaluation Process Begins
A Modest Proposal:
A Dental Insurance Plan for All Students
New Resource on Faculty Website:
"Current Practices"
"Soft Skills" to Help Avoid the "Hard Knocks"
Computer Space Planning for MIT
Tops IT-SPARCC's Priority List
Seniors Report Increased Satisfaction
with Faculty Interaction
Smart Buy Purchasing Initiative
Primary Form of Support
for Doctoral Students
Printable Version

Meritocracy and a Diverse Faculty

L. Rafael Reif

In our last Faculty Newsletter (March/April 2006), our colleague and co-chair of MIT’s Faculty Diversity Council, Professor Nancy Hopkins, wrote an illuminating article entitled “Diversification of a University Faculty: Observations on Hiring Women Faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT.” Subsequently, both Professor Hopkins and the managing editor of the Newsletter, David Lewis, asked me whether I would be willing to write a response or follow-up piece, and I am happy to do so.

Let me start by stating the obvious: Professor Hopkins did an outstanding job of focusing our attention on the data and the important conclusion that, while there has been substantial progress at MIT, it has not been uniform, it is not sustainable without constant vigilance, and it is simply not enough. We must recognize the situation, understand the causes, and chart a stronger path. We are indebted to Professor Hopkins for her work on an issue that continues to deserve our unwavering attention. [Click here to view two of the many letters received by Professor Hopkins.]

We need a faculty drawn from the best talent. For a university that prides itself on being a meritocracy, this requires us to reach beyond the traditional ways of identifying and recruiting faculty. When we do this successfully, we can achieve a more diverse faculty, a faculty able to provide the best education for our students in our complex, global society. Although it is clear that advances have been made in the last decade, no one in the MIT administration is satisfied with our progress so far, particularly in racial and gender diversity.

We must further analyze the data that Professor Hopkins has shown us, look at the facts regarding race and ethnicity as well, and understand the reasons why greater progress has not been achieved across the Institute.

We need to understand the reasons so that we can focus on what needs to be done. For example, is it more difficult for some units to identify promising women and/or under-represented minority candidates who might be a good match for MIT? Do some units have problems recruiting them to MIT? Do some units have problems retaining them? It is also important to recognize that, in some academic units, it may take decades to reach our goals if we hire women and under-represented minorities at the rate of their availability in the pipeline.

MIT is evolving. At present, our faculty in the upper administration (President, Provost, Chancellor), our faculty officers (Faculty Chair, Associate Chair, and Secretary) and the Academic Council are far more diverse than they were 10 years ago.

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Diversity is an important priority of MIT’s central administration, as it is for our deans and the heads of our academic units. My first months in office have been a reflection of this priority. Three diversity committees have been created since I became Provost last summer: two are focused on the recruitment and retention of under-represented minority faculty and the third is charged with assessing our Martin Luther King Visiting Professor and Scholar Program. In addition, the search committees for the Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and for the Director of Lincoln Laboratory are headed by women faculty.

But the most important issue here is how to translate the efforts of a committed administration, including deans and academic unit heads, into concrete results.

I am asking our deans and the heads of all of our units (Departments, Divisions, Programs, and Sections) to gather and analyze the data in each of their units, and to develop a plan to remedy any significant imbalances they may find with regard to representation of women and under-represented minorities relative to their availability in their fields. Such plans should include ascertaining and extending the use of those practices that have proven successful in identifying, recruiting, and retaining a broadly diverse faculty. This might include, for example, the inclusion of women and minorities on search committees, reviews of applications by the dean to ensure that effective outreach has occurred. I will be discussing this with the deans and the heads of our academic units and intend to review their plans and results annually.

Progress is being made. For example, in this academic year, of the 37 faculty hired since the most recent official count of October 2005, 15 (or just over 40%) are women and five (or 13%) are under-represented minorities. Within that total, the School of Science has hired 10 new faculty, including four women and two under-represented minorities; the School of Engineering has hired eight new faculty, including two women and one under-represented minority; the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences has hired nine new faculty, including six women and two under-represented minorities; and Sloan has hired 10 new faculty, including three women.

MIT has benefited immensely from our commitment to meritocracy. That is how we achieved the strength and intellectual brilliance we enjoy today. By identifying, recruiting, and retaining the best talent – including women and men, and people of different races and cultures – we will continue our tradition of unsurpassed and unwavering commitment to the highest standards of excellence in education and research.

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