Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Something is Very Wrong With 100% of the Faculty at MIT
Many people are writing about all the "diversity" nonsense at Harvard -- notably Heather MacDonald -- but almost no one is complaining about the sins of her sister institution just down the river.

In a long article in the MIT Technology Review with the frightening title "Diversity Pledge", we learn that the MIT faculty has unanimously pledged that "within a decade, MIT is to double the percentage of minorities on its faculty and triple the percentage of minority graduate students". The article is mind-numbingly awful and you should read as much of it as possible. John Rosenberg, the only person I know of who has written about it, points out that it is hard to reconcile this Pledge with the fact that its author, Prof. Rafael Bras, insists that people be "treated fairly within his department regardless of race or gender".

But let's back up and try to understand the Pledge a bit better. The reader may well be confused, since (probably) the MIT faculty and student body consists mainly of minorities. Now many people who are not scientists use words like "minority" to mean whatever they want them to mean, without even thinking about it. MIT-trained scientists, on the other hand, do it completely consciously. The article tells us that
MIT defines underrepresented minorities as African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics -- populations with disproportionately few members working in science, technology, engineering, and math. (Any subsequent mentions in this article of "minorities" at MIT refer to people from these groups.)
So the real reason that minorities are underrepresented at MIT is because that is how they are defined. Nonetheless, most of the article is a totally incoherent attempt to offer explanations for, and solutions to, this problem.

Apparently part of the problem is MIT's fault, as evidenced by the harrowing tale of Prof. Bras. Bras experienced racism in Boston/Cambridge when he came there as a student, and
MIT, Bras says, has been no different in this regard than the rest of the country. Which is why, when he became a professor of civil and environmental engineering and, later, head of the department, he made diversity his 'personal agenda item' ... In 2003, Bras became chair of the MIT faculty, and his scope was now Institute-wide.
Perhaps this is the "unconscious, invisible bias" that Nancy Hopkins (more about her below) complains about. And there are other, equally blood-curdling examples of what happens to minorities at MIT:
Faculty and grad students interviewed for this article say their experiences have been mostly good. But discrimination still exists. "We are a large community here, and there have been incidents of blatant racism. There have been insensitive remarks," says Bras, who adds, however, that he personally has found MIT to be very supportive. Hernandez tears up when he talks about the "warm, welcoming community" he discovered at the Institute. Assistant dean of grad students Jones, who is African American, says the isolation and self-consciousness he felt as a graduate student were what all students -- minority or not -- feel at times. That said, he notes that minorities do not have the networks in place to help them deal with those feelings.

"A nationwide shortage of minorities in science and engineering" is mentioned briefly, but otherwise is not addressed. The article states that for potential graduate students, money is also a problem, since minorities tend to be poor. No solution is offered to this, and thankfully so, since if MIT started paying higher stipends to poor graduate students then the wrong kind of poor person just might wind up coming, yielding the wrong kind of Diversity. The fact that "In some minority communities, an advanced degree in science or engineering carries distinctly less status than other professional options" is also part of the white man's burden at MIT. In addition, "many minorities think getting into MIT is unachievable", although no explanation is given why so many minorities-that-we-don't-call-minorities don't feel that way.

But it is clear that all these problems must be overcome, and the Pledge must be successful. Why? A semi-coherent argument is made that more racial diversity is important for urban studies. This is contrasted with the fact that "there is no 'black' physics", but the physicists and everybody else appear to feel otherwise. "Look at all this incredible talent we're missing" and "different perspectives enhance creativity" are typical comments. Also, "many faculty agree that putting more effort into diversifying the university only increases the quality of its students and faculty"; presumably all the rest of the faculty support the effort even though they don't believe this. And then there is that pressure coming from above.
Federal funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, now require grant seekers to show that they are actively working to improve diversity before their funding requests will be certified. Although NIH doesn't set quotas, it wants to see evidence that grant recipients are succeeding in their outreach efforts. "The sabers are rattling," says Isaac Colbert, MIT's dean for graduate students. Funding agencies have to meet their own diversity goals in hiring, Colbert says, and since they "get their employees from us, they need people to fill the pipeline."
Thank God for all those non-quotas.

So how should MIT go about achieving its Pledge? Of course, no wailing about missing minorities would be complete without comparing them to and confusing them with Women, and here the infamous Nancy Hopkins enters the picture. Professor Hopkins (discussed here) is the main author of a bogus report accusing MIT of discriminating against women. "That report rallied women faculty to the cause and helped improve the campus cultural climate. Since then the population of women faculty members has grown by roughly 25 percent". No mention is made of why it didn't rally 100% of men faculty to the cause. Nor is it pointed out that the case of women is very different from the case of minorities since, as pointed out above, minorities are not being discriminated against; in fact, it appears that 100% of faculty wish to discriminate in favor of them.

Oops! Not quite, for nowhere in the article is it stated that MIT will have lower standards for minorities. That would be as unthinkable as quotas. Instead, MIT will use lots of different kinds of "outreach" programs, similar to those that succeeded in increasing the number of women. (Presumably these were more successful than merely removing discrimination against women.) For women, this worked as follows:
The department created a central search committee to coordinate all searches and staffed it with faculty members particularly committed to diversity. The committee was aggressive in seeking female applicants. Members called colleagues at peer universities and asked them to recommend recent graduates or otherwise tracked down attractive candidates and invited them to apply. The committee also expanded the scope of its search to include related disciplines where there were larger populations of women. If a talented female candidate didn't fit the criteria for one job, a committee member might recommend her for another or even to another department.

Special funding available to departments through what is called a "bridge slot" also helped the School of Engineering attract more women. A decade ago, the MIT provost's office decided it would fund faculty positions for five years if they went to senior women. After that, funding would have to come out of the annual budgets of the new hires' departments.
Standards aren't lowered, just changed. And men aren't discriminated against, there's just no budget left for them.

Here are some examples of outreach programs for minorities.
One of the programs is a 10-week summer research program for minority college sophomores and juniors; according to Jones, 17 percent of the students who have participated in it have ended up at MIT. ... And at an MIT open-house weekend last April, the department hired an organization that specializes in giving tours of Boston that highlight the city's racial and ethnic diversity. The department's efforts have paid off: 80 percent of minority applicants accepted last year decided to study at MIT.
The first of these programs seems to me to be illegal, even by the weird standards of the Supreme Court. And what about the 83% that did not end up at MIT? My guess is that most of them were rejected, but it would be nice to know. Also, is 80% higher than the standard fraction of accepted minority applicants who come to MIT? And what became of the other 20%? I suppose it's possible that those who were not saved by MIT wound up in prison, but I suspect they are more likely to be found at Harvard, Stanford, etc.

Of course, none of this can work without internal reorganization and internal pressure at MIT.
Regarding faculty searches, all departments must share information about faculty and graduate student candidates with [provost] Brown. He in turn must report annually to the MIT faculty, the Faculty Policy Committee, and the Council on Faculty Diversity about the progress schools and departments have made. ... Bras and the faculty chair-elect (Bras steps down this summer) have been visiting every department "so the issue won't get lost," he says. ... After the resolution passed, the office hired Chris Jones, ... a new assistant dean who will work both internally and externally to recruit minority students to MIT. ... Internally, the Institute needs to make minority students feel more welcome, says dean for grad students Colbert. ... "I'm talking about bringing out the human element." One way to do that is to find what Colbert calls a "faculty champion" in each department, someone who will work with the Graduate Student Office to reach out to potential students.
At least MIT isn't imposing quotas on departments. And best of all, there is no mention in the article of "affirmative action".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dean Colbert and the MIT admin are the biggest CON ARTISTS on earth -- they preach diversity and meanwhile build entire departments like DUSP that are left-wing nuts.

Dean Colbert and his ilk must go!