MIT Releases Preliminary Report on New Race Study

MIT released a preliminary report detailing recommendations on how the Institute can undertake a study on faculty race issues. The study is anticipated to be fully launched at the start of the 2007–2008 academic year, according to the report released on July 16.

On April 2, Provost L. Rafael Reif selected a committee of seven faculty members that represent all five MIT schools to investigate the study, also known as the Race Initiative. The initiative will focus on race issues and how they affect underrepresented minority faculty at MIT.

Reif said in an e-mail to The Tech that he “consulted with faculty members across the Institute and with leaders in the administration” in appointing the members of the committee.

Of the seven committee members, four are underrepresented minorities.

Both quantitative and qualitative data on the experiences of underrepresented minority will be gathered, according to the report. Quantitative data will include “salary and salary merit increase data, rates of promotion, involvement in labs and centers,” and “interview and hiring processes by department and School.” Qualitative data will consist of mostly in-depth interviews with minority faculty.

The report states that for now, it will focus on a select number of recommendations that can be immediately implemented in the 2007–2008 year. The recommendations include examining MIT’s previous efforts over the past several decades to increase diversity and looking through “the large body of existing data and literature on minorities in academia.”

The initiative may last one to two years, according to the report, because the committee was encouraged “to generate a deep and penetrating review of the issues at MIT.”

The report stated that initiative objectives and framework were presented at a minority faculty dinner in late April to receive input. Paula T. Hammond, professor of chemical engineering and a member of the committee, would not reveal specific responses to the initiative given at the dinner, but said that the initiative received good suggestions and a “good deal of interest.” Hammond, who is African American, said that she is “protective of [our] ability to meet” because “that is our business.”

James L. Sherley, the African American associate professor who went on a hunger strike to protest his tenure denial, which he claimed resulted from racial prejudice, sent an e-mail to members of the MIT community in mid-July explaining his views on the release of the report.

Sherley wrote, “How shall we, and others outside of MIT, think about this document that … was developed after such a short period of effort, and does not even contain the word ‘tenure’ in its entire contents?”

Sherley was also concerned about the timing of the report’s release and the amount of publicity MIT has given the release. The document “was not given full notice on the MIT homepage, was announced in the middle of the summer when faculty, staff, and students are away and less aware of MIT spam news,” Sherley said. Sherley would not provide further comment when inquired by The Tech.

The preliminary report was headlined on the MIT home page from July 20 to July 23, according to Patricia Richards of the MIT News Office in an e-mail. Also, news of the report appeared in “the Campus News section of the MIT News Web site, as it is news that is most relevant to the MIT community,” Richards said.

In the e-mail response to The Tech, Reif said, “As they move forward with their work I expect that the team members will define the focus of the Initiative more specifically, and I am confident that they will include all important considerations.”

Currently, according to Hammond, the committee is gathering input from the entire MIT faculty to further shape the study.

For a full copy of the preliminary report, see