July 1, 2014 is the one-year anniversary of my start as MIT’s first Institute Community and Equity Officer, a new position created to advance equity and inclusion across the entire MIT campus community. It has been a wonderful year of learning, and I have been fortunate to be granted the time to deepen my understanding of MIT cultures, our rich diversity, and the opportunities and challenges ahead.
When I tell people my title, they usually ask, “What’s that?” With tongue in cheek, I sometimes describe it as a cross between Minister of Culture and Minister of Justice. It’s a position designed to help MIT achieve its best by supporting the people of MIT to do their best, guided by social justice across the vast cultural landscape of the university. The position was created to help MIT achieve President Rafael Reif’s goal “to cultivate a caring community focused on MIT’s shared values of excellence, meritocracy, openness, integrity and mutual respect.” Or to use the words of the newly-created ICEO mission statement,
The ICEO mission is to advance a respectful and caring community that embraces diversity and empowers everyone to learn and do their best at MIT.
How will this be accomplished?
There are two aspects of my role: faculty equity officer and steward of community life. Today’s note will describe some thoughts about the former role; later entries will describe ways we strive to cultivate community life.
My faculty equity role is the continuation of the responsibilities of the Associate Provost for Faculty Equity, a position held jointly from 2007-2013 by Professors Wesley Harris and Barbara Liskov. Their role was created to ensure equitable and effective handling of key faculty processes, including recruitment, mentoring, the promotion and tenure process, departmental climate issues, salary review, leadership appointments, etc. One thing faculty equity officers do is support the university’s efforts to promote the success of groups who are underrepresented among the faculty. For example, we ask whether and how we can advance both diversity and excellence to arrive at a faculty composition more like that of our immensely talented and diverse undergraduate student body. This is desirable for many reasons, including the obvious one that fairness calls for us to remove barriers to the progress of all individuals – as well as a recognition that increasing the talent pool increases the available talent, and diversity of thought leads to more creative solutions to problems.
The faculty in any particular academic discipline are more qualified than I am to evaluate scholarship in their field. However, I can help them by discussing implicit bias with search committees, so that all candidates are given fair and equal consideration. I meet with Department Heads to learn about all of their junior faculty so that I can offer encouragement and support. I advise them about recruiting and mentoring practices that have proven effective in other departments. I see and vote on all the faculty promotion and tenure cases that are brought forward by MIT’s Deans. I share my own experience leveraging diversity as the former head of the MIT Physics Department, which at the end of my term was ranked by US News & World Report as being the best graduate physics program, without equal.
Still more needs to be done. It is my duty to keep the spotlight on issues raised by the Reports on the Status of Women Faculty and the Report on the Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity. The Associate Provosts for Faculty Equity have played an important role at MIT. It is my privilege and my responsibility to carry forward this crucial work to help MIT enhance its already outstanding faculty.