(submitted in response to Carey Goldbergfs March 23, 1999 New York Times article gM.I.T. Issues Report Acknowledging Sex Discriminationh also published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer under the title gMIT Admits Discrimination Against Female Professorsh)
I applaud your newspaper and M.I.T. in handling the release of the School of Sciencefs report acknowledging sex discrimination against tenured female professors. While the likes of presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and U.S. News and World Report columnist John Leo insist on telling us such problems no longer exist, the M.I.T. report as well as the recent controversies over the lack of Black law clerks at the Supreme Court and the New England Journal of Medicinefs article gThe Effects of Race and Sex on Physiciansf Recommendations on Cardiac Catherizationh clearly demonstrate that sex and racial biases are as persistent and dangerous as ever.
As M.I.T. Faculty Chair Lotte Bailyn states in her comments on the report, gOur first instinct is to deny that a problem exists (if it existed, it would surely have been solved by now), or to blame it on the pipe line or the circumstances and choices of [individuals].h This tendency may be reinforced by the fact that gnew arrivalsh often feel included and supported as did M.I.T.fs junior women faculty members. Unfortunately, the gglass ceilingh soon becomes apparent.
Perhaps the most important and chilling finding of the report was gc that the difference in the perception of junior and senior women faculty about the impact of gender on their careers is a difference that repeats itself over generations. Each generation of young women, including those who are currently senior faculty, began by believing that gender discrimination was esolvedf in the previous generation and would not touch them. Gradually however, their eyes were opened to the realization that the playing field was not level after all, and that they had paid a high price both personally and professionally as a result.h I believe that this situation is analogous to the minority experience and I agree whole-heartedly with Dr. Bailynfs suggestion that gthough these data refer to women, the methods used and recommendations made can and should be adapted to c under-represented minorities.h
Acknowledging that a problem exists is the necessary first step towards its solution. Without a willingness to coldly and frankly look at ourselves in the mirror, the diseases of racism and sexism will only continue to grow in us like an untreated cancer. M.I.T.fs courage should not only be applauded, but also emulated. Its report admits ga common defense for MITfs small number of women faculty is that eCal Tech and Harvard are doing just as badlyf. But to be as bad as these unenlightened institutions is not a defense we should take! Given its particular strengths in fact-finding and problem-solving, MIT should lead in this area, not settle for the unimpressive record of more traditional institutions.h
This report is not about whining, complaining, demanding an unfair advantage, avoiding merit, or any other negative connotation of gaffirmative actionh that Messrs. Buchanan and Leo would have us believe. It is about affirmative action and equity in the true sense of the terms. Even those who are obviously at least as good as their colleagues and often, in the words of the report, gexceptionalh still face tremendous obstacles and are discriminated against institutionally if at times subconsciously. This is not imagined or fantasized. The report, in the words of the School of Science Dean Robert Birgeneau, gwas very data-driven and thatfs a very M.I.T. thing.h Letfs hope that in the very near future this type of honest self-examination will be ga very American thing.h
Milton Alan Turner