L. Rafael Reif, Provost

Letters to Community

Report of the Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity

January 14, 2010

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

I am delighted to share with you the report of the Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity, a detailed study of how race affects the recruitment, retention, professional opportunities and collegial experiences of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty at MIT. Representing more than two and half years of work led by a core team of MIT faculty, this report advances our discussion of diversity and inclusion, giving us data to assess established practices, from recruiting to mentorship, and challenging us to think carefully about our MIT culture and assumptions. Going forward, the report's findings and recommendations will guide our efforts to continue to increase diversity and strengthen the culture of inclusion at MIT.

The report uses the tools of scholarly inquiry to reveal something we long suspected but could not document fully until now: that for many of our faculty from URM groups, their experience at MIT is distinctly and sometimes painfully different from that of their majority peers. We are not succeeding in making all members of our faculty feel equally welcome and valued as scholars - and this distressing disparity of experience is a reality we must recognize and address.

Genesis and history of the study

The original impetus for this report stems from a unanimous 2004 resolution of the MIT faculty to double the percentage of URM faculty (and triple the percentage of URM graduate students) within ten years. The faculty adopted this resolution in recognition of MIT's commitment "to developing and maintaining a robust environment that values and celebrates the potential of all the members of the MIT community as that potential enhances MIT's mission to continued excellence in teaching, research and community service." To help turn this resolve into results, in January 2006 (shortly after I became provost), I established committees charged to focus on (i) minority faculty recruitment, (ii) minority faculty retention and (iii) the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor Program.

It soon became clear that we needed to examine not only URM faculty recruiting and retention but also larger issues related to how URM faculty experience MIT. To pursue this broader charge, in April 2007 I appointed a core team of faculty to determine the resources required for a systematic study of how the recruitment, retention, professional opportunities and collegial experiences of URM faculty are affected by race.

On July 12, 2007, this faculty team responded with a preliminary report. They advised that a penetrating review of these issues would take 12-24 months, that any such study should include both quantitative and qualitative data, and that it should actively engage the deans of the Schools and the heads of academic units. Along with providing early recommendations, the preliminary report also urged the study team leaders to convene an advisory board of mostly external academic experts, which they did.

The Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity then began its research in earnest, with a team of faculty representing all five Schools. Led by Chair Paula T. Hammond (Department of Chemical Engineering) and director of the research effort Lotte Bailyn (Sloan School of Management), the faculty team also included:

  • Emery N. Brown, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Division of Health Sciences and Technology
  • Associate Provost for Faculty Equity Wesley L. Harris, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Associate Provost for Faculty Equity Barbara H. Liskov, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Leslie K. Norford, Department of Architecture
  • Christine Ortiz, Department of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Associate Dean of Science Hazel L. Sive, Department of Biology and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
  • Marcus A. Thompson, Music and Theater Arts Section

Together their efforts produced the report we share today.

Learning from the findings

The committee's careful, methodical approach produced a range of important findings. A number of them offer signs consistent with our aspirations; for example, our junior URM faculty report satisfaction with their lives at MIT, and the salaries of our URM faculty are at par with their non-URM counterparts. The report also highlights constructive efforts being pursued by individual academic units. (As I presented at the recent November 18th faculty meeting, some of these efforts have been rewarding: in the last five years, 27 of 236 of our faculty hires -- 11% -- have been from URM groups; in the last ten years, of our net growth of 75 faculty, 25 -- or 33% -- have been from URM groups. As a result, the percentage of URM faculty increased in the last ten years from 4.3% in AY2001 to 6.4% in AY2010, i.e., from 41 of 950 to 66 of 1025. Incidentally, the corresponding figures for women are 30% of faculty hires in the last five years, i.e., 70 of 236, and 84% of net faculty growth in the last ten years, i.e., 63 of 75). However, many of the findings in this study fall short of our aspirations. In fact, the report's most important general observation is about the experience of URM faculty members at MIT, and it tells us that we still have a long way to go to truly achieve a culture of inclusion.

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. Our differences enrich our lives and our thinking. Yet a diverse faculty can only succeed if we actively build a culture that welcomes and embraces each one of us.  We must work together to make sure that a culture of inclusion is the culture of MIT.

Next steps

With this report in hand, we will now work together to determine the most effective ways to take action. We will begin with a series of structured discussions with Academic Council, School Councils, and heads of academic units to understand the implications of the findings and to explore the best ways to achieve our goals of diversity and inclusion. I look forward to sharing best practices around searching, recruiting, mentoring and building the pipeline of faculty talent.

I want to express my personal appreciation to all members of the Initiative for providing the MIT community with this careful and thoughtful quantitative and qualitative research. I am most grateful to Professors Paula T. Hammond and Lotte Bailyn for their extraordinary efforts in producing this report. I also want to thank the External Advisory Board, study participants, and those postdoctoral staff and graduate students who worked on the report for their tremendous dedication to this effort.

The research report concludes, "We hope that this report will help everyone to be more self-reflective, to better understand the lives of the URM faculty at MIT and to appreciate how race plays into their experiences." I strongly share this hope. Please reflect on ways you might become personally involved, whether in mentoring, recruiting or addressing pipeline issues. This report offers us a path to build a stronger MIT - an Institute better equipped to serve and nurture our incredible community of talented scholars. I look forward to taking on this important task together.


Rafael Reif


L. Rafael Reif
Office of the Provost
Room 3-208
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Cambridge, MA 02139-4307

(617) 253-4500 phone
(617) 253-8812 fax