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Institute releases report on minority faculty

Report of the Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity recommends ways to strengthen recruitment and retention of under-represented minority faculty

MIT on Thursday issued a report by its Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity that provides important findings about how race affects the recruitment, retention, professional opportunities and collegial experiences of Black, Hispanic and Native American professors at MIT; that urges the Institute to strengthen its efforts to recruit and retain underrepresented minority (URM) faculty; and that encourages the Institute to work with peer institutions to build the pipeline of URM talent.

The product of 2-1/2 years of research and analysis by a team of nine MIT faculty members, the report concludes that while MIT’s efforts to hire and retain URM faculty have produced some gains in recent years, the results are uneven across the Institute, and that more effective policies and practices are necessary. Moreover, the study reports that the experience of URM faculty at MIT can be different from that of their majority peers, and that MIT must do more to foster a culture of inclusion.

“As an institution that prides itself on the ability to address some of the world’s most difficult problems, MIT can and should lead the nation in the important challenge of increasing the numbers of minority faculty via a strong Institute-wide policy that facilitates advancement in the area of faculty diversity,” the report says.

Provost L. Rafael Reif, who launched the Initiative in 2007, said that the MIT administration accepts the report’s findings. “This report highlights important issues of race and diversity on our MIT campus, and supports our ongoing commitment to integrating a culture of inclusion into the fabric of the Institute,” he said. “MIT wants, and our students deserve, the strongest possible faculty, and a more diverse faculty is a stronger faculty in all academic dimensions, from research to teaching to mentoring.”
President Susan Hockfield commented, “A richly diverse America does not await us, it is upon us; it is our present and our future. We draw most of our faculty, students and staff from America, and we must make full use of the talent this country has to offer if we hope to continue to invent the future. We share this challenge with our peer institutions; only by working together with them can we effectively increase the pipeline of academic talent, the central resource in meeting our diversity and inclusion goals.” 
Paula T. Hammond ’84, PhD ’93, the Bayer Professor of Chemical Engineering, led the committee that prepared the report. She explained that the report identified several areas for improvement, from mentoring to recruiting practices. For example, she said, MIT recruits heavily from its own graduates and those of a few peer institutions, potentially causing it to miss outstanding URM candidates from other schools. She noted that the report also found strengths that the Institute could build on; for instance, MIT has educated a large number of minority scholars now working at institutions around the world, including some current MIT faculty members, and she said MIT should leverage this network to expand the pool of qualified minority candidates.

“I remain convinced that MIT is a great place with regard to its general goodwill and its ability to implement change on some of the most difficult problems. We saw many signs of this ability and genuine spirit among our schools, departments and individual faculty members,” she said. “However, there do remain difficult discussions in the future. There is still not sufficient understanding among all our faculty of the importance of diversity of all kinds at MIT. Regardless of intent, until there is a higher value placed on diversity issues by our general faculty, we will have a climate that is less congenial to those who come with differences.”

“We encourage faculty and other members of the MIT community to read the research report, which details the MIT minority experience and indicates significant issues that need discussion among the faculty,” said Lotte Bailyn, professor of management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who is a member of the race initiative committee and head of the committee’s research team.

Initiative background

In 2004, the MIT faculty resolved to address the issue of diversity, particularly the under-representation of minorities among the faculty.

While the problem is common to most universities, it is more critical in science, technology and engineering, according to the report. Citing research indicating that groups with a broad range of ethnic, cultural and experiential backgrounds perform better than homogenous groups when solving problems, deliberating and sharing information, the report states, “We must diversify our faculty or we lose in competitive advantage and in mission.”

In developing the Initiative, the Institute drew from its experiences with the Women in Science Report, a study on equity among women faculty issued in 1999.

During the spring of 2007, Reif charged a nine-member committee of faculty from all five schools to investigate whether and how race and ethnic identity have affected MIT’s ability to recruit and retain minority faculty. The committee was also asked to investigate what aspects of MIT’s culture, procedures or environment may have influenced URM faculty and their opportunities and experiences at MIT.

The committee’s extensive research included a quality-of-life survey administered to the entire faculty in January 2008, in-depth interviews of all URM faculty and a small comparison group of White and Asian faculty, and a salary analysis. To compare promotion and tenure rates and other hiring data by department and school, the committee also reviewed a cohort analysis of faculty who came to MIT between 1991 and 2009.

To garner input from the general faculty, the committee periodically presented its progress and findings at faculty meetings and also held a series of open discussions with minority faculty to discuss problems and potential solutions specific to their different career points.


Among the Initiative’s key findings are:
  • MIT recruits heavily from its own departments and from a few peer institutions — such as Harvard and Stanford — which suggests that broadening the recruitment search could yield larger numbers of URM faculty.
  • Compared to their White peers, a higher percentage of URM faculty leave before or after they are promoted to associate professor without tenure, suggesting that efforts to retain URM faculty may be especially critical in their first three to five years.
  • Poor or negative faculty mentoring experiences are more frequent for URM than for non-URM faculty, partly because mentoring across the Institute lacks consistency.
  • Overall, URM faculty report more dissatisfaction than their White counterparts. However, it is the URM non-tenured faculty, particularly black faculty, who are most likely to be “very satisfied” with their lives at MIT.
  • There is “great awkwardness” in addressing race and racial differences openly at MIT, meaning that discussion of race-related issues is avoided.

To make recommendations about recruitment and retention of URM faculty and to suggest structural changes to administrative policy, the committee studied several models of success within MIT’s departments and schools and at other institutions.

The committee’s many recommendations include:   
  • Each academic unit should work with its academic dean and the associate provost of faculty equity to develop strategies for improving recruitment efforts of URM faculty.
  • Department heads and faculty search chairs must be responsible for improving URM faculty recruiting.
  • Formal mentors should be assigned to junior faculty hires, and mentors and mentees should be informed about expectations.
  • Annual reviews should be implemented for each junior faculty member beginning in their first year of employment.
  • MIT should broaden faculty searches to other carefully selected institutions.
  • MIT should create forums where race and cross-cultural interactions are openly discussed, and the Institute should harness its most highly respected scholars, scientists and engineers to act as spokespeople on diversity issues.
Next steps

After Hockfield and Reif review the recommendations with the academic deans, Reif and the committee will meet with each school to discuss the report and how to implement its recommendations.

Several short-term recommendations presented by the Initiative in 2007 have already been implemented. These include a new template for collecting information on recruiting efforts for minorities and women, and meetings by the associate provosts for faculty equity with each department head to discuss the mentorship progress for every junior faculty member.

The report urges the Institute to assemble a committee of senior faculty to review progress made toward minority faculty recruitment and retention every five to 10 years and report to the president and provost with further recommendations, if needed.

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