Excellence has many dimensions
And MIT flourishes by including all of them
In the Feb. 17, 2012 issue of The Tech, Brandon Briscoe argues that MIT is “heading in the wrong direction with affirmative action”, and suggests that MIT uses quotas or preferences in its admissions and hiring practices. While we respect Brandon’s right to express his opinion and his courage in doing so, we fundamentally disagree with his premises and statements.
Although Brandon does not use the term quota, he implies that preferences are given to particular groups during admissions and hiring. He suggests that such preferences result in admitting less qualified women and under-represented minorities at the expense of more qualified candidates from well-represented groups.
This is simply not correct. For space reasons, we focus on undergraduate admissions, however, the same principles applies to faculty hiring. MIT does not use target quotas, nor aim for particular distributions of groups. While no admissions process is perfect, MIT works hard to admit an academically excellent, and intellectually, culturally diverse community of students whom they believe well match MIT‘s environment. And they work hard in the recruitment, selection, and yield phases to enroll a critical mass of different groups to ensure their success.
MIT is very fortunate to have an exceptionally deep pool of applicants. There are many more fully qualified applicants than there is space for them; we might easily admit twice as many — or more — students as we do currently and not see a decrease in quality.
With such a wealth of great applicants, we consider many factors in admissions decisions. While academic excellence is critical and required, it provides one element of selecting a class. Also important are leadership, innovation, contributions outside the classroom, match of personality with MIT’s atmosphere, and other factors. One can debate how to weigh these elements, and there is no absolute formula, but all admitted students bring other attributes in addition to academic excellence. Essential to creating a dynamic, vibrant campus is creating a diverse community — with different cultural and political perspectives, different experiences, different interests. Our community flourishes when musicians, athletes, humanists, technologists, entrepreneurs, hackers, philosophers, practitioners all interact together; often with individuals possessing elements of multiple perspectives coupled with intellectual depth, curiosity, analytic problem solving skills, and a strong work ethic. With such a deep and diverse pool of applicants from whom to select, our students have all of these qualities. A diverse community shares different modes of thought, perspectives, and insights, and it creates a richer environment for everyone. Different perspectives are not necessarily less qualified nor should they be less valued; they add to the environment, not detract.
Everyone comes to MIT with a strong desire and the fundamental ability to succeed. Our community suffers when members assume others don’t belong, and treat any stumble as validating this view. Every MIT student goes through periods of self-doubt; imagine the impact if their peers use them to argue that they don’t belong. Non-acceptance can undercut anyone’s confidence, and in fact promote an atmosphere in which otherwise successful members fail. Excellence has many dimensions; MIT flourishes by including all of them.
Grimson is the Chancellor of MIT. Hastings, Ortiz, and Colombo are the Deans for Undergraduate Education, Graduate Education, and Student Life, respectively.