At MIT, ‘diverse’ is not the opposite ‘qualified’
In responding to Brandon Briscoe’s guest column, I won’t recount my successes as a minority at MIT, or those of my mother and father, a former employee and a graduate student, respectively. Not that my perspective lacks worth, but other students and faculty members can disprove Briscoe’s insinuations many times over. However, I must address Briscoe faulty evidence of reverse discrimination directly.
Briscoe points out the School of Engineering’s “gloating announcement” that they had hired more women faculty members than men last year. He compares this with the number of graduate women engineers at MIT (at 26 percent) and those in industry (11 percent). This comparison is completely meaningless, as it is misleading to compare a change in numbers with full proportions. In fact, as of 2011, merely 12 percent of tenured MIT engineering professors are women, which gives a better idea of how MIT must stay committed to its policies to set an example for the industry.
Next is Briscoe’s opposition to President Hockfield’s goal of increasing diversity, which he dismisses as social engineering. Among his grievances is the School of Science’s appropriation of funds to expand the underrepresented minority (URM) faculty body, which he says is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ensures compliance with Title VII, claims otherwise in its suggested best practices:
“A common employer practice is to use a variety of recruitment and hiring techniques … including job fairs and open houses, professional associations, search firms, and internships and scholar programs. This approach … is more likely to result in a diverse pool of job seekers. Specialized publications or websites, including those directed to particular communities, may be effective tools for these purposes.”
Combined with MIT’s Affirmative Action Serious Search policy, which uses active efforts that “go beyond posting and advertising the availability of positions,” we see a policy of inclusion, not exclusion. Inclusion involves a general effort to fill the position, plus recruiting other, ethnically diverse candidates. In contrast, exclusion uses those general efforts, but subtracts candidates of a certain race. Briscoe claims that both MIT’s official policy, and the “unofficial policy” of giving minorities preference in hiring and admissions, are illegal. However, I have shown that the former is legal, and he fails to prove that the latter is even happening.
Indeed, MIT could have reasons outside of race or sex to hire or admit a minority over a nonminority, with all else (e.g. test scores or publications) being equal. Perhaps the minority candidate had better personal qualities, overcame greater adversity, or showed more potential. Such decisions transcend objective measures; indeed, they require examination of qualities and context. After all, rewarding great success despite great hardship is the essence of meritocracy.
Finally, Briscoe says it is unrealistic for each committee to have female faculty members, referring to a 2011 Report on the Status of Women Faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT. While this might be true, he omits a potential solution found in the next paragraph. Consulting opportunities are given disproportionately to men, and as a result, women “may be asked to do more service because of the absent men” who are pursuing their consultancies.
Briscoe does little to apologize for his abrasive stance. He goes from saying that “every student and faculty member that I have ever met at MIT have the intelligence and ambition to ‘deserve’ to be here,” to asking, “As a white male, how am I supposed to feel anything but discriminated against and offended by MIT’s policies of preference and ‘inclusiveness’ for everyone but me?”
Now, had Briscoe encountered great obstacles to his success — be they institutionalized, circumstantial, or societal — I would have been fine with MIT reaching out to him, too, regardless of his race. However, the claim of reverse discrimination rings hollow in this context, as nonminorities were already included in the first place, and in fact, discrimination persists. I applaud MIT for remaining committed to these policies, and hope that they may enable a diverse community of scholars to pass through the doors of the Institute.
Emad Taliep is a member of the Class of 2014