Professors Discussed Diversity at Faculty Meeting Wednesday

Faculty members unanimously passed two motions at Wednesday’s faculty meeting: one establishing academic guidelines for prolonged emergencies on campus and the second scheduling the September student holiday on the same day as the fall career fair.

Later, a team of faculty working within the Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity presented recommendations for increasing and sustaining the levels of minority faculty members at MIT. They are expected to produce a full report by mid-December.

The faculty voted swiftly to approve the emergency procedures and guidelines under which the Institute will operate during times of “significant disruption.” Such events are defined in the new amendment as including “natural disaster, civil unrest, or pandemic illness,” which causes “substantial absenteeism among students or instructors,” and “prevents academic work from progressing.”

The Institute has shut down three times in its history — due to an influenza pandemic in 1918, student strikes in 1970, and a blizzard in 1978 — but before Wednesday, no formal emergency academic procedures had ever existed.

Now, if the faculty chair declares a significant disruption, that chair will have the power to change the school calendar, class registration, assignments, exams, grades, or any other academic systems, depending on the “uniqueness of any emergency situation.”

The procedures also established an alternate grading scale that may be used during a significant disruption, which includes a specific transcript mark for incomplete work that may be replaced by a final mark if work for the course is completed by a specified date.

If alternate grades are implemented, they will not factor into a student’s GPA and instead will be listed on the transcript with an explanation of the disruption.

Recruiting Minority Faculty

Professor of Chemical Engineering Paula T. Hammond ’84 presented the findings of the Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity, created in 2007 to study how race affects the way faculty experience MIT.

Through demographic analysis, surveys, and interviews, the team examined how race affected the lives of faculty members. After identifying key problems in the way MIT handles diversity, they developed recommendations for implementation.

In terms of recruiting, they found that 36 percent of MIT underrepresented minority (URM) faculty have MIT degrees, and 60 percent of MIT URM faculty were drawn from other positions at MIT, Stanford, and Harvard. “We are not gaining from certain pools of talent,” said Hammond, saying that to increase diversity MIT must expand where it searches for potential faculty.

To increase retention of URM faculty members, the group’s report will suggest that MIT assign mentors to act as both advisors to and advocates for junior faculty.

Hammond also asked that individual departments implement annual reviews of all faculty, institute a “comprehensive feedback and evaluation process,” and to build relationships with other institutions to attract and retain star URM students.

One obstacle the team identified was apathy for the issue on campus. “There is a tension created by the outward presumption that true meritocracy is already essentially achieved at MIT,” said Hammond. She cited a group finding that “MIT non-URM faculty viewed diversity as less critical to the MIT core values of excellence.”

Not all faculty were impressed with the Initiative’s suggestions. One professor said he felt offended by the Initiative’s report because it seemed to suggest that academic departments would not understand the benefits of diversity and therefore would not make appropriate efforts to encourage diversity.

The Initiative’s full report is expected to be published by mid-December.

Before Hammond’s report, Provost Rafael L. Reif spoke at the meeting about efforts to increase the number of underrepresented minority faculty.

He presented data showing upward trends in the diversity of both students and faculty:

Ever since a resolution in 2004 to increase the number of URM faculty by a factor of two and URM graduate students by a factor of three within a decade, MIT has gradually increased its URM population, said Reif.

Since 1991, the undergraduate URM percentage rose from 10 to 23 percent, while the URM graduate student percentage rose from 3 to 7 percent.

Of 236 faculty hires from the last year, 27 were URMs and 70 were women.

During questioning, Reif said that MIT does not have lower admission standards for women and URMs, but that those groups of applicants “self-selected pretty harshly,” so that women and URMs who applied to MIT were already “the best of the best,” explaining their higher acceptance rates.

When asked by Professor Albert R. Meyer how MIT compares with other universities in efforts to increase diversity, Reif said that during the MIT’s recent Institute-wide reaccreditation, other institutions that reviewed MIT, including Yale and Emory, were impressed with MIT’s level of diversity.

Holiday to Coincide with Career Fair

The faculty passed a motion to experiment with scheduling the September student holiday to correspond with the career fair in fall 2010 and fall 2012 . In fall 2010, there will be no student holiday in September, as is the case every year Labor Day falls late in the month.

The Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council which created the motion, will collect feedback on the change from students, companies, and other members of the community each year. In spring 2013 the groups plan to present a final report on whether the holiday should be permanently moved or remain on a Monday, when it has been scheduled historically.

Undergraduate Association President Michael A. Bennie ’10 spoke before the vote and said that, by holding the career fair on a holiday, students would not have to miss class to attend, and companies would be able to hold presentations and interviews for more students.

Some faculty members expressed concerns about how would affect students uninvolved with the career fair. June L. Matthews, professor of physics and associate chair of the faculty, noted one concern brought up in discussion: “Many students value their three day weekend early in the semester … We are taking something away from this part of the community, and not really giving them anything in return.”

Despite these concerns, the motion passed unanimously and applause followed.

The next faculty meeting is scheduled for December 16.