MIT failing to meet its race-based hiring quotas

My MIT School of Science newsletter arrived in the mail recently (I was a math major undergrad, laboring under a mistaken teenage impression of personal intelligence). Nearly all of the news was positive, with various awards and honors received by MIT faculty and important scientific discoveries achieved. The one disappointment was in the area of recruiting professors and graduate students of desired races:

In 2004, the MIT faculty unanimously passed a resolution to double the percentage of under-represented minority (URM) faculty and triple the percentage of URM graduate students at MIT by 2014. … overall progress has been slow. One important reason for this is the very low rate of URM PhD production in some fields. In Physics, only 2 percent of the PhDs awarded in America go to URMs. Under the leadership of Ed Bertschinger [photo of a very white professor included], the Physics Department is working to change this.

[under the headline Empowerment] … the Physics Department invited [some black and Hispanic physicists] to attend a one-day “Physics Diversity Summit” workshop at MIT. … “In learning about MIT’s student efforts in Africa and the diversity efforts initiated by the University of Washington graduate students,” Bertschinger says, “I felt reinvigorated in my own efforts to champion diversity and inclusion at MIT.”

No mention was made of my 2006 proposal in “Women in Science” (Appendix C) that salaries be raised for members of desired groups, e.g., women or blacks. If a professor of a particular sex or race has more value to the school, why shouldn’t he or she be paid more than a white or Asian male? After six years of failure, on top of decades of failure of earlier programs to change the skin color balance at MIT, why not try a more direct approach to recruiting and retaining desired employees?

10 thoughts on “MIT failing to meet its race-based hiring quotas

  1. I’m guessing that the answer is that a professor of a particular race is not really more valuable to the school, as long as the pressure to change the skin colour balance will be satisfied by sincere but ineffectual attempts to do so. This is in accordance with politically correct thinking, where motives are more important than results, and trying to do something ineffectively with the approved methods is seen as better than actually achieving results with non-approved methods (like the market, which is anathema).

  2. If the salaries of female and/or URM professors are made higher than those of white or Asian male professors based on ethnicity and gender factors alone, there could be lawsuits claiming gender/race-based discrimination.

  3. Bob: The school advertises its intention to discriminate against white and Asian males in hiring, yet does not get sued by disappointed applicants. If it is legal to reject a candidate based on his membership in an undesired race (and therefore pay him $0), why wouldn’t it be legal to hire that candidate, but at a lower salary than employees of a preferred race or sex?

  4. I think you’re making an error in assuming that human career development is equivalent to the production of goods and service. Even more so when the career is highly specialized and takes years (decades?) to complete.

    Higher salaries work best at the margin: “Hrm, I could take a job at Kansas State…or I could go to MIT and make 50% more”. Do you think that the few URM students/professors/PhDs are going to Tuskegee University and Bryn Mawr when MIT has the doors open?

    The goal is to encourage URM, in their late teens/early 20s, to embark along a career path that will take at least a decade, if not more, before they’re employable. As you’ve previously written about, an academic career is extremely stressful, long, difficult, and low-paying – unless you have an overwhelming passion for your subject.

    I don’t think that telling students that after a decade of graduate stipends, they’ll make more money than their white/asian male peers will make a difference. Making them think they might change the world as they see it, might.

  5. Anonymous: The newsletter says that 2 percent of Physics PhDs were awarded to people who identified themselves as belonging to one of MIT’s desired ethnic groups. shows that 1554 Physics PhDs were awarded in the U.S. during 2009. Two percent of 1554 is 31. MIT could easily fill its minority quota if it hired all 31 of those PhDs (the total number of faculty members at MIT is less than 1000 (source)). The only challenge, therefore, is convincing a PhD with the desired skin color to accept an offer from MIT rather than from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Caltech, et al. As MIT has approximately $8 billion in the bank (source), outbidding those other schools for the sought-after employees should not be impossible.

  6. What factors are used when making a hiring a decision are unlikely to be actionable in court for an applicant who is rejected, especially since it is hard for that applicant to make a claim when there will be many other applicants also rejected.

    In essence, the hiring processes is a bit of a black box, and it’s very hard to prove discrimination one way or another.

    What is actionable, though, are setting different compensation packages explicitly based on race or gender. You could, in private negotiations, make more or less the same offer, but it cannot be open and explictly linked to race/gender.

    So yes, it’s basically game.

  7. Might also help to recruit those physicists based on their work in physics, and not patronize them with a “Physics Diversity Summit” when they arrive on campus to check you out.

    I mean fine…if you’re going to target them because they’re black, it’s just a consequence of living in the profoundly broken moral world of 21st century academia. The least you could do is refrain from throwing it in their faces.

    “We want you to come here to do and teach great physics!” vs “We want you to come here and…um…be black.”

    Which one would you, were you a black physicist with the qualifications to be a serious candidate for MIT professorship, want to hear?

  8. 2 percent of Physics PhDs were awarded to minorities
    1554 Physics PhDs were awarded in the U.S. during 2009
    Two percent of 1554 is 31
    MIT could easily fill its minority quota if it hired all 31 of those PhDs

    Doesn’t that mean this quota/goal is based on a dream and not any sort of statistical analysis?

    Seems to me they should be worried about admitting more minor PhD candidates who may then become potential faculty recruits.

    Or maybe there are societal factors beyond their control that influence the college and career choices of minorities.

    But still, why have a resolution to do X without an assessment first of how X could be achieved?

  9. Greg: Physics is a science, not a religion, and therefore universities don’t like to hire their own PhD graduates. So recruiting graduate students based on skin color would not help MIT in recruiting faculty. This would not be true in a religious field such as Computer Science, where you don’t want to bring in heretics from other schools (they might question the value of Lisp, for example!).

  10. the responses explain why the profession does not pay well. When positions/jobs are awarded by factors other than measuring the outcome created by the positions skill to move toward the entities desired outcome, then the reward decreases. When a position can be awarded because of time spent pursing, color of skin, hair etc…the value is decreased because there is more to choose from. It is unlikely to see a high paid postion such as a star athlete, skillful leader of a company, block buster movie star, extremely talented lawyer, world class surgeon, receive or be awarded their position/job based on time spent pursuing, color of skin, hair or gender. If they could be chosen in such a manner, their value/pay would decrease because they would become one of many.

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