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Discrimination in academia

See what other readers had to say about the decision of a faculty member and administrator to resign over conditions at MIT

By | July 31, 2007

Editor's Note: Frank Douglas resigned from senior positions at MIT earlier this summer, in the wake of the Institute's controversial denial of tenure to James Sherley, who staged a hunger strike in protest in February. In this piece, which will run in the October issue of The Scientist, Douglas describes his reasons for resigning, which go beyond the Sherley case. We're publishing it early online to spark a discussion of diversity on university campuses. Please comment on this piece and related issues by clicking here. On June 3, I resigned from faculty and administrative positions at MIT, effective June 30. I did so because I perceived an unconscious discrimination against minorities and because my colleagues and the institute authorities did not act on my recommendations to address these issues. The timing was such that many of my colleagues thought I was resigning over the case of James Sherley, who was denied tenure in 2004 and went on a hunger strike earlier this year in protest. But my decision was based on the complex, insidious nature of discrimination in a university context. I will go into more detail about my decision below, but several things have become clear to me throughout my decades of experience in industry and academic science. Academia is where the leaders and change agents of society and the world are educated, imprinted and nurtured. Selecting and preparing these future citizens and leaders has historically relied on various methods. Foremost is that done on the basis of excellence, whether it is in ability to recite, repeat or find new solutions to historical problems. This is the discrimination of excellence to the discipline, and is widely held to be a good thing. The other two methods are not considered as positive because of the role that personal preferences - that is, prejudices - plays in them. One, the curious phenomenon of fraternities, sororities and special clubs, which discriminate along social lines, is the discrimination of social acceptance. The other, based on a behavioral or style component supportive of the goals of the department or discipline, is the discrimination of best fit. What makes these selection methods particularly troublesome for minorities is that discrimination of excellence to the discipline is impacted by the other two criteria. Recent events at MIT have been no exception to this pattern. MIT: from women to BiDil In 1994, women faculty at MIT expressed their belief that "unequal treatment of women who came to MIT makes it more difficult for them to succeed, causes them to be accorded less recognition when they do...and that [as a result,] these women can actually become negative role models for younger women." The response of then-MIT president Charles M. Vest was most instructive: "I, like most of my male colleagues, believe that we are highly supportive of our junior women faculty members. However, I sat bolt upright in my chair when a senior woman, who has felt unfairly treated for sometime, said: 'I also felt very positive when I was young." That sarcastic comment indicated that when she was a young faculty member, she did not realize the extent of the discrimination to which she was being subjected. These women faculty were facing discrimination of social acceptance and best fit, and recognized the impact that it would eventually have on their evaluation with respect to discrimination of excellence to the discipline. Although some women faculty believe that the gains made by women faculty at MIT have been modest, the movement initially led by Nancy Hopkins has so sensitized MIT that when it seemed last year that Nobel Laureate Susumu Tonegawa wanted to actively block the hiring of Alla Karpova, a young woman faculty member, there was an immediate reaction from eleven senior women faculty, who engaged the administration in this issue. They wrote that MIT had "damaged [its] reputation as an institution that supports academic fairness." Ultimately, Karpova declined the offer of a faculty position at MIT, saying, "I could not develop my scientific career at MIT in the kind of nurturing atmosphere that I and young people joining my lab would need to succeed." Given a potential discrimination against her with respect to best fit, her chances of meeting the criteria under discrimination of excellence to the discipline at MIT would be impaired. The fact that the administration and a large segment of MIT expressed dismay that this situation had occurred illustrates that fighting for the rights of women faculty has attained social acceptance. In March, 2007, I was invited to make a presentation at a symposium organized by David Jones in the MIT department of Science, Technology and Society. The attendees were primarily academics from MIT and other universities. I presented health statistics, focusing on BiDil, a drug that is marketed for the treatment of congestive heart failure in self identified African American patients. Although I was forewarned that the group was hostile to this drug, which they labeled a "race drug" that should never have been approved by the FDA, I was astounded at the lack of appreciation of the realities of the situation: This drug had demonstrated a 43% decrease in mortality in a population that dies at a rate up to twice that of white patients. The group seemed uninterested in discussing the drug development and regulatory issues associated with BiDil. In short, it appeared that it was socially acceptable to ignore scientific facts and the impact on the lives of the affected patients in favor of pursuing a discussion about a "race drug." As I told the audience, given the large sums that are raised each year for some diseases that happen to disproportionately affect other ethnic groups, I rather doubt that if we were fortunate to find a good treatment for those diseases, we would deny those patients access to the drug on the basis that it was a "race drug." The James Sherley case James Sherley was denied tenure by the Department of Biological Engineering in 2004 and went through an appeal process which he claims was tainted by "racism and conflict of interest." In February 2007, he began a 12-day hunger strike in protest, which he ended because he thought that the administration at MIT had "committed to continue to work toward resolution of its differences with Professor James Sherley," according to a letter to me from Associate Provost Claude Canizares. Along the way, I had made the simple suggestion that MIT should assign an external panel to evaluate and make recommendations to improve the environment in which minority faculty at MIT work. I also recommended that depending on the findings of this external commission a decision could be made as to whether the Sherley case should be further evaluated. In April, MIT made it clear that it intended to enforce Sherley's departure by June 30. What was astounding to me was that MIT said it had no intention of involving an outside mediator. They also withdrew from an agreement to discuss the "differences" as understood by Sherley. I began to wonder whether there was a lack of integrity at the highest levels of the Institute, or simply a lack of care in expressing the Institute's intention. I concluded that it was not an issue of lack of capability, but one of lack of will to deal with a problem that had clearly polarized minority faculty and the larger MIT community. James Sherley's open and confrontational emails about his perception of racism and conflict of interest that led to his being denied tenure created both sympathizers and critics among both the minority and majority faculty. His unorthodox and somewhat "unacademic" approach made it difficult for some to openly support him. The administration failed to recognize that the case had become a complex mixture of discrimination of excellence to the discipline, social acceptability, and best fit and that it needed to deal with these separately and then reassess possible cross contamination. While women faculty had used the metric paradigm, highlighting differences in the size of labs and access to resources to make their case, Sherley focused on process. The approach by the women faculty met criteria for social acceptance. Sherley's unorthodox approach had little chance of success because it took many out of their best fit and social acceptance comfort zones. I decided to resign, and did so on June 3. Here is what I wrote Canizares in my resignation letter, which was released publicly. This is the part that the press and MIT have chosen to ignore: "The issue for me is not whether Prof Sherley should be given immediate tenure or not. I cannot judge that and would not even presume to do so. The issue is: Why has this great institution not been able to find a mutually, acceptable solution for a problem that affects, not only Prof Sherley, but every present and future minority faculty member? I am convinced, and I have other reasons to believe this, that the will to do this is lacking." Following my announcement of resignation on June 3, I engaged in three weeks of intense discussions with members of the administration, and many colleagues. They expressed dismay at my leaving and were convinced that my action was based on inadequate knowledge of the facts of the Sherley case. It was striking that although I repeatedly stated that Sherley's tenure was not the reason for my resignation, my colleagues were so trapped by the sanctity of the tenure process that they could not see the larger problem. I decided that I do not "fit" in such an environment and as I said in my resignation letter: "I would neither be able to advise young Black [faculty] about their prospects of flourishing in the current environment, nor about avenues available to affect change when agreements or processes are transgressed." What next? Institutions such as MIT will proudly parade successes in increasing the number of minority undergraduate and graduate students, and perhaps even the entry of young minority faculty. As promising as these statistics might be, they do not predict success for minority faculty seeking tenure. Indeed they are irrelevant, because the issues of fit are quite different at each stratum. The absence of evidence of racial discrimination does not equate to evidence of absence of racial discrimination. James Sherley's case may have been one of the interplay between discrimination of excellence to the discipline and discrimination of fit. When there is insensitivity to the challenges of diversity, what we have is an institution trapped by its historical pardigms. Such an institution may not be relevant for tomorrow's world. I knew and worked closely with many brilliant and humane professors and leaders at MIT, but there is a major problem that lies just below the surface. MIT has not grasped the full and global impact of diversity. It prides itself as a place where 'a thousand flowers bloom'. But these are independent blooms. It also needs to be a place where, through cross-pollination, hybrid and novel transformative solutions are evolved and tested to address today's/ tomorrow's problems. MIT needs to reexamine its criteria for discrimination of social acceptability and best fit to ensure that it is relevant in a rapidly changing world. Frank Douglas is the former Professor of the Practice at MIT and director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Innovation. He also serves on the board of directors of several pharmaceutical companies, including NitroMed, which developed the drug BiDil. What do you think of Douglas' decision to resign from MIT? What are conditions like for minorities and women at your institution? Tell us by clicking here. Links within this article: A.McCook, "Still hungry for tenure, but not food," The Scientist Blogs, February 19, 2007 http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/52855 Diversity 2007: A Supplement to The Scientist, November 1, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/supplement/2006-11-01
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Comments

July 31, 2007

I read the statement and was very impressed. It was particularly interesting to read that the MIT faculty could not understand the underlying reasons (beyond the tenure case) for the resignation. One must be concerned that people at the level of MIT faculty can not "see the forest due to all the trees" (European expression for seeing the larger picture). How good a scientist are you if you do not?
Avatar of: Jacques Wynsong

Jacques Wynsong

Posts: 1

July 31, 2007

In my opinion Frank Douglas does not make a compelling case for institutionalized discrimination at MIT. My hunch is that his impact on policy will be negligible.
Avatar of: camille

camille

Posts: 1

July 31, 2007

There is absolute truth in Frank Douglas' article. As a female minority, it seems I went through college armed with a double-edged sword. One sharp end pierces me causing me to wonder why I am at this institution that 'honors' diversity. The other end, pointed at faculty, fellow minority students, and otherwise demands respect. The problem is the same great institutions that 'value' diversity do indeed value diversity - the 'monetary' value of diversity. Recruit minorities to your university, because afterall, college is a business. Yet, once admitted, what honest support system is instated to ensure academic success?? MIT needs to change its principles. Premiere education is for all, not just the majority.
Avatar of: Anon

Anon

Posts: 2

July 31, 2007

I applaud Prof. Douglas for standing by his convictions and trying to address the complex issue of discrimination. Sadly, his resignation means one less voice of reason is active in the MIT community.\n\nThe question still remains - how do we deal with discrimination in our groups (social, work, religious, academic, etc.)? Is the administration of MIT happlily oblivious to the underlying issue(s) raised by Dr. Douglas - or purposefully ignoring them, allowing the noise of individual scenarios to drown out the signal underneath?

July 31, 2007

This is why the only donations I make to MIT are to the Music Library. Education and diversity take a back seat to sucking the teat of the military-industrial complex.
Avatar of: John F. Alderete

John F. Alderete

Posts: 1

July 31, 2007

Immediately, Lubrano's book "Blue Color Roots, White Color Dreams" and Washington's "Medical Apartheid" come to mind. Anyone who does not believe Dr. Douglas has not "felt" the hostility that may find its way, even if just through perception, into the academy. The experiences of the women faculty at MIT have been chronicled and reinforced by the X-Gals series in The Chronicle of Higher Education "Chronicles Careers" section. His experience with BiDil at MIT seem to fly in the face of the MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation objectives. Still today in the academy we want things to be done as they were done when "they" went through it. It is a new world! Change of the sort needed as per the MIT experiences by "women and minorities" begins at the top.
Avatar of: K Kumar

K Kumar

Posts: 1

July 31, 2007

I totally agree with Frank Douglas. Academia is full of discrimination. Although, North American continent (especially Canada) boasts of no racial bias in the academic appointments, it is obvious. What they want is the people from minorities should only be given lowly jobs and poor salaries despite their superior skills and qualifications. This is very clear in Canadian society, especially to newly immigrated persons who are not "white". I personally know how it feels like to be discriminated even though I have skills and qualifications much better than many who are enjoying these higher positions.
Avatar of: Al

Al

Posts: 7

July 31, 2007

Sounds unfortunately like paranoid rubbish. The bit about discrimination due to social acceptability is also nonsense, since this is how all human organizations work. If you cannot obtain social acceptance, a vital aspect of your ability to work in groups and achieve will be undemonstrated and is lacking, and therefore, it makes great sense in a sector where cooperation is essential to success that it functions this way. It is part of ones acumen, a qualification in its own right. This is why it is universal and trusted as a means to make value judgments of potential team members. It never seems to occur to social commentators that traditions and cultures like this at MIT have evolved over a long time and are contributory to their success. To ignore this possibility seems like an act of mindless vandalism. In the end, we ALL have to fight sources of conflict and discrimination against us on an individual level from other individuals, some people are just unable to resist the opportunity that they are perceiving problems due to the power that membership of a 'victimized' minority gives them. I ask in whom, is the subconscious really influencing perception - faculty or in self-righteous staff? A principle called confirmational bias will apply, where aggrieved individuals paranoia will cause them to sift experiences looking for affirmation of a pattern that confirms what they want to see. The rest of us just ride the rough and get on with our lives. \n\nI suspect that others need to grow up.\n
Avatar of: Shaheen Shaikh

Shaheen Shaikh

Posts: 1

July 31, 2007

Hi, \nI agree with Prof Frank Douglas. I am a women and belong to minority community and I face lots of challenges and difficulties to get the credits for my own workm and for the work I deserve. I think, this kind discrimination is there everywhere, may me extent to which it happens differs. \n\nShaheen\n
Avatar of: Bernie Tao

Bernie Tao

Posts: 1

July 31, 2007

I appreciate Dr. Douglas? insightful analysis of these issues. As an academician, the issue of diversity and its implications in administration are of both practical and philosophical concern to me.\n\nI particularly find interesting his breakdown of discrimination into 3 types, excellence, social acceptance, and best fit. These three are certainly interactively used in decision making in hiring and promotion processes in academia as well as industry. Without question, he is correct in stating that while discrimination of excellence is perhaps metrically relatively easy to measure, while in many situations, the metrics of social acceptability and best fit are much more subjective. The question is really whether such metrics are justifiable, based on more global goals/impacts. I agree with Dr. Douglas that discrimination based on excellence is positive in academia or industry. In the case of the other two classifications, it is not quite as definitive. \n\nSocial acceptance certainly has a great deal to do with our definitions of what is appropriate on a situational basis. For example, consider that while some people may not object to dancing in a club at 2 AM to booty jams and crude rap lyrics, the same people would consider such music inappropriate and unacceptable at a wedding ceremony, where the Bridal Chorus from Wagner?s Lohengrin is traditionally played. This is because the two situations have different social behavioral norms, not because one type of music is ?good? or ?bad?. Again, the question is should such social norms exist that allow discrimination between types of music based on arbitrary classification (e.g. rap, classical, easy listening, etc.)? Are there ?rational?, ?logical? justifiable reasons for such norms and the classification of music types? (Try substituting in the word ?minorities? for ?norms? and ?races? for ?music types?.) Best fit is similarly subjective, but perhaps takes into account more individual/local preferences rather than general social norms. \n\nHence the real issue is whether there are justifiable, rational reasons for discrimination based on excellence, social acceptance, and best fit within an organization (which presumably has clearly defined objectives/goals). And as Dr. Douglas notes, are academicians, as evaluators of individuals for promotion/tenure, able to clearly recognize, evaluate, and weigh these three components in an objective, rational fashion? This is perhaps where the discussion of diversity issues should center, rather than with the basis of perceived inequality or subjective fairness. \n\nPerhaps more interesting issues are:\n- How or why do we in academic institutions/administrations justify our definition/classification of minorities, e.g. genetically, as by skin coloration or gender, or sociologically, by economic/geographic/educational background/experiences? \n- Does diversity in thought, experience, and background of the individuals who are seeking a solution to a given problem always result in the ?best? solutions? Are there meaningful circumstances in which more cohesiveness in these areas result in the ?best? solution? \n
Avatar of: Michael Morris

Michael Morris

Posts: 19

July 31, 2007

I agree with Bernie Tao.\n\nSo, I think the question becomes, is Sherley's faculty, and other faculties at MIT, 'balanced' in terms of representation?\n\nIf not, two issues will forever and always insistently raise their heads for discussion: (i) the perception of bias, and (ii) group mentality that results in bias.\n\nOnce faculties become 'balanced' (I will make no comment on how that can be achieved), the problem largely solves itself.

July 31, 2007

I am a scholar in the Humanities, and therefore I must admit that I do not normally read this magazine. But I was told about Frank Douglas' story, and feel compelled to offer my admiration for his moral courage. It is not often that a person has the strength and determination to sacrifice their own personal well-being in order to take a stand on important issues, particularly an issue like racial discrimination which has somehow fallen into disrepute in the academy today. It is almost as if all our rhetoric about "diversity" has somehow made it inappropriate, hyper-sensitive, and extremist to identify and agitate against the insidious manifestations of racial and gender discrimination in American institutions. I applaud Frank Douglas for his actions, and I hope that his efforts will serve as a "wake up" call to those of us in the academy who believe in academic integrity.
Avatar of: Susan Reverby

Susan Reverby

Posts: 1

July 31, 2007

As a women's studies professor and historian of medicine and race, I share many of Professor Douglas's concerns. But I was at the MIT conference last spring and I believe he has mischaracterized the opposition to BiDil. The concept of it as a "race drug" comes not from the social scientists but the NitroMed company that took it to the FDA asking for approval only for "self-identified African Americans." Jonathan Kahn, one of the key critics of the drug who spoke at the conference, gave testimony at the FDA hearing asking that the drug be approved: just not for African Americans alone. The conferences on race and medicine have always heard differing views, indeed I spoke to others at the conference who have been very involved in BiDil's approval from the NAACP representative to National Minority Health Month's executive director. I am sorry those who came to the conference could not open a more meaningful dialogue with Professor Douglas, but he did not stay around long enough at the meeting for this to happen.
Avatar of: Alvaro Cervantes

Alvaro Cervantes

Posts: 2

August 1, 2007

In my early career as a student at Oregon Institute of Technology, I had the worst experience of my life related to discrimination that ended up in quiting college. An old (mature) professor, in the electronics department (1993), was angered at a white woman who was taking Spanish classes and wanted to practice with me. He personally came to us and told us to shut up and "speak only English" several times. No, it was not in his class, but in the halls, and out his scheduled class. finally, he told us, "by the way, I don't think you are going to pass my class," when in fact we were some of the highest students in the classroom. He flunk us, the female talked to the sherif department, after the dean of student did not do anything to defend her. Finally she was allowed to take a test and got an A on it. I could not resist that discrimination incident when another electronic faculty professor asked me "Are you the want who got mr. XXX in troubles? I quit and did not finalize my electronics engineering degree. I started working for HP right away and lasted for almost 12 years. Finally quit because it was impossible for me to move up or change career, even dough I continued studying full time, got a bachellor and a master degree on IT; I saw whites moving up so easy, including the ones I helped with their homework, that I understood very quickly that I could not fit in that culture; There were only three blacks amd two Spanics that I knew when I left (other Latinos with advanced degrees quit at the same time) . So it very sad but the ones that feel the white privillege consequence, are the ones that can understand the pain of being a minority; no, I don't "just cross the border", as I was told one time in the mall, I am a citizen of the USA, but not white of course.
Avatar of: Dr. Raam,Shanthi

Dr. Raam,Shanthi

Posts: 43

August 1, 2007

A comment: We all can learn from our President Reagan: He did not shut the Russians out when his goal was to end the cold war. Instead, he stayed engaged till the mission was accomplished. So, Dr. Douglas could have moved more towards his goal had he not resigned from MIT and lost his power, but had stayed engaged to bring about changes he wanted to see implemented, on step at a time.\nA solution: Continuing with the "minority" "gender specific"classification among the Scientists is totally counter productive. It simply leads to self doubt and second guessing even among those who are successful and have made great strides. I do have a possible solution that might work. \nLet us develop a uniform national list of criteria for securing tenureship. The scientists who wish to enter the tenure tract or who think they are qualified to enter tenureship should register themselves in a National registry. Entered details are all computerised and the computer randomly selects a number for the canditate scientist which is his or her own to update the details in the computer. By matching the details with the standardised criteria, the computer isssues a Statement of Qualification \n"The Scientist meets the requirements" or identifies areas where improvements need to be made. Those who received the Qualified for Tenureship" statement could then approach their institution and proceed further to obtain their evaluation and to secure the tenure.

August 1, 2007

I am writing to provide an exact description for the reference to my protest at MIT that was given in my colleague's, Professor Frank Douglas's, article:\n\nDouglas:\n\n"James Sherley's open and confrontational emails about his perception of racism and conflict of interest that led to his being denied tenure created both sympathizers and critics among both the minority and majority faculty. His unorthodox and somewhat "unacademic" approach made it difficult for some to openly support him. "\n\nExactly:\n\n[James Sherley's open e-mailed disclosures about his charges of racism and conflict of interest that led to his being denied tenure created both sympathizers and critics among both the minority and majority faculty. His public protest of racially-biased practices on the part of both MIT policies and faculty officers made some unwilling to support him.]\n\nRacism persists in America because of the action of racists and the inaction of the rest of Americans, often including those who are harmed directly by racism. It will maintain as long as those who do not believe in racism deny its existence and fear standing together against it.\n\nThere is a movement underway in this country to make the legal standard for unacceptable racial discrimination match its common day manifestations. Those committed to "liberty and justice for all" should look for how they can sustain this movement, each in his/her own way. \n\nRacism is rarely subtle or unintentional, but it is often denied or ignored. This paradox persists because both the racist and his/her target perceive a benefit from their ironic collaboration. The racist continues to enjoy the pleasures of undue sociopolitical and economic priority. The resigned target hopes that by acquiescing to current racism, fairer treatment will be granted in the future. This pathological relationship cannot endure. The sooner we address racism honestly and openly, the sooner we can move on to a more productive social structure in America. Not easy, but not impossible either.\n\nI hope that Professor Douglas's article is not used to justify and enable the active racial pathology in U.S. universities of higher learning. It is an excellent illustration of the deeper problems that must be redressed with the conviction of history and the vigilance of saints.\n\n

August 1, 2007

I think Dr. Douglas' decision to resign was a heroic act which exemplifies his integrity as a top-level academic. I think that he is correct when he says, as many others have said, that the issue of race bubbles "just below the surface" of pretty much everything that goes on in America, including academic research. This is a sad fact, but true nonetheless. I also agree with him that it is useless for top universities and research institutions to tout increases in the numbers of minorities in research at the undergraduate and graduate levels as evidence of positive change, particularly if very few (if any) of these students progress to the top of the food chain by achieving tenure. As the tenure process has become increasingly difficult to enter and navigate for EVERYONE in this era of diminished NIH budgets, the intangible aspects that determine which candidates would make "a good fit" within a given department become increasingly important indicators to members of tenure-selection committees (most of whom tend to be non-minorities). Expressions like,"He/She would get along well with the other faculty" become that much more relevant in the process, even though these are very subjective judgements, shaped by the lens through which each person views the social climate. I wonder if James Sherley's "unorthodox" (interpreted by me to mean "straightforward/in-your-face") style conjured up images of the sterotypical "angry black male" in some of the folks that were reviewing his application and served as a check mark against him in the all-important "He would get along well with other faculty members" category ultimately leading to his dismissal? One must ask, in all honesty, had a "non-threatening" "non-minority" individual used the same methodology would that person have received the same dismissive treatment as Dr. Sherley? In my opinion, they could have at least had a brief external review of his application to use in conjunction the internal committee's findings before rendering a final judgement. \n\nThe lack of "institutional will" in this case is apparent and I think the end result will negatively impact MIT's ability to recruit minority faculty members in the future. I am currently a post-doctoral fellow at the NIH (NIAID) with a PhD in virology who will be looking for faculty positions in the next few years. I also happen to be an African-American male. Witnessing the manner in which the MIT administration handled the James Sherley case and reading the comments from Dr. Douglas has pretty much eliminated MIT as an option for me, no matter how good of a package they might offer. Even in my short time in academic science (5 year PhD + 2years of post doc), I've learned that environment and mentoring are very critical to one's development as a top researcher. It appears, at least from my outside view, that MIT as an institution does not place a high premium on maintaing a diverse professoriate in the sciences and probably would not be a comfortable place for me to develop as a scientist who happens to be an ethnic minority.\n\n
Avatar of: cbj

cbj

Posts: 2

August 1, 2007

(1) "You can't win if you're not in the game." Douglas' & Sherley's behaviors have excluded them from the game.\n(2) "Everything that has a beginning has an ending; make your peace with that and all will be well." Buddhist Saying\n(3) Al's comments say it all ("A disagreement with assumptions", 31 July 2007).
Avatar of: cbj

cbj

Posts: 2

August 1, 2007

"The rest of us just ride the rough and get on with our [careers]."

August 1, 2007

I applaud Frank Douglas for his action and hope that it will inspire the dialogue that is long overdue. Many are comfortable with their unconscious discrimination against minorities. In fact, this problem transcends the academic area into government offices, etc. Unfortunately, the same people who form cliques that hoard information and resources so that minorities have no way of progressing, are also in charge of so-called diversity training enforcement. In my opinion, this action is tantamount to cartel self-cartelization. As a result, the participants in such diversity training withhold their views, fearing negative repercussions. There's definitely a great need for dialogue in all sectors.

August 1, 2007

Racism as per Dr. James Sherley case based on social acceptance and best fit is not just probably subjective as many of you have said but VERY subjective in deed. It seems to be that the only way around it, is to take the extremist approach: "Fight until you get what you want". It may seem selfish but unless there is a way to measure these subjective attributes of excellence in academia, we are going to continue seeing more of these cases. Dr. James Sherley case and Dr. Doughlas resignation is certainly not the last case.\n\nI suggest Dr Doughlas spearheads a foundation/study/or any thing, whose ultimate goal will be to find ways of measuring academic excellence on the subjective attributes of social acceptance and best fit. Let me and others know if you need voluntary assistance in moblisation probably through the editor.

August 1, 2007

Dr. Douglas is a bright, thoughtful, and caring person. His resignation from his positions at MIT is a loss to the institution. It is unfortunate that MIT chose to ignore the problem articulated by Dr. Douglas.

August 1, 2007

Frank Douglas is only making public what many minorities experience. Change would only come when the Frank Douglas' in academia stnad up.

August 2, 2007

Within a same social type (group, association, tribe, society or culture), individuals develop ways to relate to other individuals regardless of their physical appearance. When a social type dominates one given environment and an individual of a different social type is being evaluated to join said environment, discrimination of "best fit" is intrinsically unfair since the underlying expectation is that the "evaluated" individual will adopt the culture of the evaluators. Thus in academia, when we apply "best fit" African-American men must turn into white men, Hispanic men must turn into white men, Arabic men must turn into white men, Asian men must turn into white men and Women, of any race and culture, must turn into white men. \n\n"Best fit" can't be evaluated one way, the evaluators must be flexible to take in new ways of doing the same thing; its generally called "tolerance". The evaluation board should be able to admit "we are unable to adapt to this new way of doing things" (i.e. we are intolerant to this new culture). Unfortunately, most of the times an individual is denied incorporation into an academic environment because S/he does not fit, the reason everyone believes and most importantly, the reason that is passed on to the new generations of that academic group is "S/He wasn't good enough". Academic excellence is secondary, tolerance -or rather intolerance- to the evaluated individual prevails. It is human, but we could change this by continuous awareness of the problem instead of blunt denial like above commentator Al.\n

August 2, 2007

I think this article proves the point of how gender and skin privilege permeate the hierarchy at MIT. Why wasn't this nut sacked years ago?\nhttp://www.cnn.com/2007/US/law/08/01/millionaire.shot.ap/index.html\n\nI am warning my African-American niece, who shows academic promise, to keep up her sense of entitlement but to lower her expectations, because brilliance is seldom rewarded, and one needs to develop a thick skin if one wishes to work within the system. My motto has become "no good deed goes unpunished."
Avatar of: Manuel Mota, MD

Manuel Mota, MD

Posts: 1

August 2, 2007

Congratulations. It takes a lot of courage to challenge an institution with such much power.\n I just want to add that what professor Douglas says about MIT also apply to many other academic center. They show the same stance your closer bank does: They have one black teller and a Hispanic customer server to give the apppearance of racial equality.\n Unfortunately, the reality is that this is White-European country and any other ethnicity is perceived as "tolerable inconvenience." On the other hand, I don't complaint because I came from a country where the same is done, even though half of the population is multiracial, but I feel sad for those that were born here but his or her ancestors didn't come from Europe.\n Best of luck,\n

August 2, 2007

I find Dr. Douglas?s construct of discrimination based on excellence, social acceptance, and fit awkward and inelegant. However, his essential point that discrimination based on fit and social acceptance (and I believe that the two are at their core, synonymous) contaminates the ability to truly assess excellence is on point.\n\nTenure is a system that is exploitative, self-perpetuating, and under the guise of promoting "excellence", proudly discriminatory. According to MIT's Policy and Procedures, the standard for tenure depends on the department; accountability is limited and internal (the Provost, himself a member of the faculty, is the ultimate judge for mediating disputes); and the referee letters that establish "impact" are compiled, evaluated, and presented under the cloak of "confidentiality". When an amorphous process is supported by questionable accountability, subjectivity, and decisions that are made behind closed doors, we should not be surprised when the result is institutionalized homogeneity, a glaring "white males only" sign for those who would dare to introduce diversity. Bottom line: the tenure process provides fertile soil for impropriety and should be reformed or abolished. \n \nDesigned to promote intellectual freedom with employment for life, tenure seems anachronistic in a world where job insecurity is the norm. In fact, intellectual freedom is usually the first casualty as fundamentally mainstream ideas receive grant support and peer recognition, not novel, revolutionary, or ironically for Prof. Sherley, pioneering ones.\n \nAt MIT, there are several improvements to the tenure process that would be beneficial to ALL faculty, not just faculty of color:\n\n? It is assumed that all tenure-track faculty are informed of the time line and process for achieving tenure in their department. This timeline and the associated milestones, e.g., promotion from assistant to associate professor, should be explicitly communicated with a copy of that communication sent to the Provost.\n? Within six months to a year of their hire, all new, untenured faculty members should be assigned a tenure committee of at least three people. The names of these individuals should be communicated to the junior faculty member by the head of the department and a copy of the notification should be sent to the Provost.\n? Within six months to a year of hire, all new, untenured faculty members should be informed, in writing, of the standard for tenure in their department. This document should state the number, and relative weight, of publications, patents, courses, committees, presentations, etc. that are required, at minimum, to meet the standard for tenure. A copy of this communication should go to the Provost.\n? Upon promotion from assistant to associate professor, a letter stating the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate?s case should be produced with a copy to the Provost.\n? If a tenure-track professor?s case is not advanced out of the department for consideration for tenure, a performance evaluation should be produced stating the rationale for not advancing the case.\n\nThese are performance management suggestions that are geared towards maximizing accountability, transparency of process, and faculty development opportunities. These are measures which can mitigate, somewhat, the degree to which social and fit discriminators undermine the identification, support, and promotion of excellence. It is assumed that these steps are a matter of course, but there is no way to ensure that in fact they are unless there is accountability. At MIT most people would say that an AWOT letter is standard, that compiling a committee for a junior professor a par for the course, and that the standards for achieving tenure while varied from department to department, are generally known. Yet, none of these procedures were followed for any of the junior faculty members in the Biological Engineering Division of which Prof. Sherley was a part. Implementing these procedural reforms would benefit the MIT community and would help to ensure the integrity of the process that is central to the Institute ? the identification, development, and retention of individuals who can make significant and meaningful intellectual contributions to society.\n

August 5, 2007

I feel "blind admissions" or "blind hiring" is now by the wayside...meaning hiring based on someones research is now going to be confused by a number of issues...the chap who resigned should have resigned...serving on a Drug Company Board, and then promoting a product of said company at a conference is pathetic...how could that person be "neutral" in their research...sort of like shrills in journalism blowing whistles aboot something, and then we find out later they are on the payroll...people err humans should only be given these cake jobs based on research...regardless of anything else...women and minority candidates should be given 50% of the positions...BUT all based only on merit by a review panel that never knows whether they are X or Y...robotic cyber advances will eliminate this problem down the road...artificial intelligence used in research will be gender/race/sexuality/religious neutral...
Avatar of: Cary Fraser

Cary Fraser

Posts: 1

August 5, 2007

Professor Douglas' decision to resign his positions at MIT is to be commended in light of his analysis of the situation at the institution. It takes considerable courage to recognize, and disavow, the levels of institutionalized bigotry that inform decision-making in, and shape the culture of, the academy. His career will be better served by moving to a different institution where he can advance his views without fear of retaliation for exposing the flaws of MIT and the unfortunate climate that reigns there. As he observes: "When there is insensitivity to the challenges of diversity, what we have is an institution trapped by its historical paradigms. Such an institution may not be relevant for tomorrow's world." Professor Douglas obviously is no longer a 'fit' for an institution that continues to trade on its past without a realistic vision of the future.
Avatar of: anonymous

anonymous

Posts: 1

August 8, 2007

Search the term "Maron Cunningham" at http://www.futurehealth.ucsf.edu/SCHOLARS/93spages/sherley.html \n\nand one will perhaps understand the source of the information in her post on this article. ("Sherley enjoys the delightful support of his wife, Marion Cunningham"....)

August 12, 2007

Prof. Douglas has clearly articulated the\ncomplex issues facing Black faculty\nat MIT. This issue is extremely important to\nBlack alumni, and is being closely monitored.\nHis clear explanation will help the Black alumni \ngo forward with near term policy decisions we \nhave to make regarding this issue. It is our\nuniversity, and we intend to see it take the\nnecessary corrective action.\n\nThank you, Prof. Douglas.

August 13, 2007

Frank Douglas needs to be applauded to stand up for his beliefs and for terminating a career at MIT which many academics would strive for by even sacrificing their integrity. Knowing Frank Douglas for many years I have learned that his life and his multiple careers have experienced plenty of discrimination by less intelligent caucasian people. Is it surprising that his sensitivity towards the race issue as result of his biography is so much higher than could possibly be experienced by a white person? Some might suggest that such sensitivity expresses paranoid behavior, but in reality that reflects on their own ignorance concerning the race issue.
Avatar of: E. Jorgensen

E. Jorgensen

Posts: 1

August 13, 2007

Not only has MIT lost Dr. Douglas, they have now lost Tsaka Cunningham (see above letter) and countless other bright young potential faculty members who will now think twice about working at MIT. Why was it so hard for MIT to go along with the idea of setting up an independent outside panel to review the situation? \n\nPrestigious MIT will probably noodle along just fine in the short run, but I agree with Dr. Douglas that there is an opportunity here for other institutions to take the lead and create bias-free environments that attract bright women and minority prospects. Perhaps someday places like MIT will find themselves labeled as behind the times and embarassed by their inability to change. Sort of like Apple leap-frogging over Microsoft. I know that many of my contemporaries are discouraging their children from attending the same large prestigious colleges they did because of the disgraceful lack of meaningful student-faculty interaction at some of these more famous institutions. A past reputation is no guarantee of continued excellence. \n\nEach new generation is becoming more used to diverse cultures due to the explosion of media and communications. Faculty issues aside, I can see it as a large negative to a young person if their college does not have the same mindset in this area that they do. They embrace and delight in diversity. Why on earth would they want to learn in an environment that doesn't, particularly if other institutions step in and present tempting alternatives?
Avatar of: sue

sue

Posts: 1

August 16, 2007

In my experience, organizations from the federal government to academia SAY they are all in favor of diversity but in reality what they really want is the numbers and no real change of status quo. All the diversity literature and PR says things like "we welcome the different viewpoints and life experiences of our diverse workforce" but that's not true. We're only welcome if we go along with the "culture" of the organization. Any additions or changes are not welcomed as enlightening but are seen as threatening, and indeed they are. Threatening, that is, to the established ways of working and valuing work that kept us out in the first place. False advertising of the worst kind in my opinion.
Avatar of: D. Shelton

D. Shelton

Posts: 1

August 16, 2007

Though some think that Dr Douglas is leaving the field of battle, I believe others are right in stating that Dr Douglas's career will flourish in other institutions, as well as that of his employees. And this means he hasn't left the field of battle, he's moved it to his own chosen ground, always a good strategy. Public ostracization of MIT, even by one very public man, demonstrates leadership, not dereliction. And the fact that he stood up for the PRINCIPLE of the matter is what I admire the most. Whether Dr. Sherley deserved tenure is almost irrelevant. The process of evaluation is suspect, and the administration/faculty are adamant in their closemindedness. This is not a martial institution. The Universities are supposed to be centers of higher education, open discussion, and intense and ongoing ethical debate and improvement. MIT's unwillingness to reevaluate only illustrates it's ignorance of the times. \n\nGrowing up on the West coast I was not unduly exposed to racism, especially in the work place. I was naively skeptical of the impact and subtlety of racism. Moving to the Midwest has opened my eyes, and I'm ashamed of all the times I've scoffed in the past. The worst offenders are often subtle and insulated within our University systems. Their biases are not detected in their words or facial expressions, but in their deeds and in the statistics of graduting students, or promoted employees. I applaud Dr Douglas for his stand, not because he necessarily believed that Dr Sherley deserved tenure, but because he realized that the system was flawed, and certain forces within the institution wanted them that way, thank you very much.\n\nAnd for those that argue that social acceptence is more important the academic excellence in tenure positions, I'd remind you that "everyone" thought the world was flat too. This is not a popularity contest and this is not high school. The decisions our administrators and faculty make have direct and often critical consequences. We must hold them to a higher standard.
Avatar of: Oduola Abiola

Oduola Abiola

Posts: 1

August 18, 2007

The ?senior guys? at the MIT have shown that they are not only racist they are cowards and have no integrity. With his resignation, Frank Douglas has demonstrated monumental courage and has shown that he does not belong in the 'MIT conclave'. It must have been a hell of a time for him staying there all these years ?trying to effect a change from within? as advocated by the unprincipled bigots. Unfortunately, racism in academia as any honest person will admit is not limited to the MIT. It pervades the whole University system whereever there is a racial mix and it is always in favor of the whites. The most shameful aspect of it is that ?it is unacademic? to say so as if racism and being academic are inseparable. It is high time all honest academics stood up to defeat this evil.
Avatar of: Sherri Dohemann

Sherri Dohemann

Posts: 1

August 21, 2007

This comment is for Mr.-Dr. Douglas. \n\n Life is very short; I admire a person who 1) knows their values and 2) supports them both in word and action. Being the director of Biodesign, you are used to being ahead of mainstream consciousness, which you are demonstrating again here.\n\n Here in Northern California, the practices you are describing would not survive out of sheer economics-many "customers" i.e. patients etc., business owners are foreign born or minorities, thus from a business perspective the old models you are describing just wouldn't work.\n\n I have not yet been an academic year student at Stanford, however it is a great institution that makes a concerted effort to be available to the community. Through friends, I have key mentors there who are women and men also. Women do thrive there-as do minorities also. They respond kindly to both as I am both a woman and a minority. \n\nMaybe you need a sunnier change of scenery. I applaud you on your actions; there is a better place.\n\nWarmly,\n\nSherri

September 13, 2007

Al commented: ?Sounds unfortunately like paranoid rubbish. The bit about discrimination due to social acceptability is also nonsense, since this is how all human organizations work. If you cannot obtain social acceptance, a vital aspect of your ability to work in groups and achieve will be undemonstrated and is lacking, and therefore, it makes great sense in a sector where cooperation is essential to success that it functions this way. It is part of ones acumen, a qualification in its own right. This is why it is universal and trusted as a means to make value judgments of potential team members. It never seems to occur to social commentators that traditions and cultures like this at MIT have evolved over a long time and are contributory to their success. To ignore this possibility seems like an act of mindless vandalism. In the end, we ALL have to fight sources of conflict and discrimination against us on an individual level from other individuals, some people are just unable to resist the opportunity that they are perceiving problems due to the power that membership of a 'victimized' minority gives them. I ask in whom, is the subconscious really influencing perception - faculty or in self-righteous staff? A principle called confirmational bias will apply, where aggrieved individuals paranoia will cause them to sift experiences looking for affirmation of a pattern that confirms what they want to see. The rest of us just ride the rough and get on with our lives. \n\nI suspect that others need to grow up.? \n\nThe basic assumption in this comment, core to the institutionalization of racism in this country, is the concept that we live in a meritocracy and that everyone who works hard and has special gifts will rise to higher levels. This assumption reveals a lack of understanding of ?white privilege? in its many manifestations. This privilege has been beautifully explained in Tim Wise?s book entitled: White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. The obtaining of social acceptance in a context of assumed inferiority, media promulgated fear of violence and laziness is virtually unachievable. Most white people are completely shielded and unaware of their privilege. The comment is correct in that this is ?universal? which is another way of saying that the values are institutionalized by a dominant white culture. We indeed may ALL have to fight sources of conflict and discrimination, but these pale in the face of institutionalized racism. I would not ask the commentator to ?grow up? but I highly recommend reading Wise?s book and some thoughtful reflection.\n\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous

anonymous

Posts: 1

October 6, 2007

As a female Ph.D. scientist who had experienced gender discrimination and harassment and who had witnessed many acts of racial and gender discrimination while in grad school in the '90s, I had hoped that things would have changed lately. However, when Dr. Frank Douglas, a distinguished successful, former leader of Aventis Pharmaceuticals, feels compelled to resign and write what he did, you know that there is a real problem. I commend Frank Douglas for having the courage to stand up and make this public. Frank Douglas is a person of conscience who sacrificed his professional security in academia to expose the inequity of the situation. This could not have been an easy decision for him to make. By standing up for what is right at great professional cost and fighting for those who are not of a high enough rank to fight for themselves, his actions make him a hero of first rank. His actions give hope that there are still some true leaders with ethics left in the world -- maybe just not in academia.
Avatar of: Julie Schwedock

Julie Schwedock

Posts: 1

March 24, 2008

I read Dr. Douglas' letter with great sadness. I am an MIT alum, and was very proud of the way the institute handled the issues about bias against women raised by Prof. Nancy Hopkins. Reading this article I have the opposite feeling: shame. While I have no opinion about the issue of James Shirley's tenure in particular, I do think the issues of racial bias need to be discussed. If a man of Dr. Douglas' stature feels the need to leave MIT because of feelings of discrimination, it is a sad day indeed.\n\nFor those of you who believe he is just being paranoid, I would urge you not to judge until you have walked a mile in another man's shoes.
Avatar of: Eileen Brantley

Eileen Brantley

Posts: 1

March 24, 2008

It was quite courageous of him to leave an institution that appears not to support diversity. I hope that MIT will make changes so that these losses can be prevented in the future.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

December 26, 2008

Thank you also for your incisive analysis of the process of discrimination in academia. I believe this paper should be provided to every medical or graduate school dean in the nation. \n\nI am a middle aged female academic. I have clear memories from my public (!) junior high school of being told I could NOT be a doctor, simply because of my gender, despite tentative societal shifts in the wake of the newly passed Title IX. \n\nWell, I proved them wrong---sort of. I am an MD, an academic researcher, and have two R01s. However, throughout my career, I have encountered pervasive, insidious discrimination, even from male colleagues I have generally liked as people. I do not think these men are necessarily conscious of their behavior. They simply live in a different world than I, speak a different language, and belong to better "clubs". They instinctively help one another in their careers and choose new club members that look like themselves, especially chromosomally. Most of the chairs and chiefs in my institution are not only male, but quite traditional. Most have had a wife at home for 30+ years, running their homes, raising their children, and emotionally supporting their every move. Women faculty simply do not fit into this schema very well. It is hard not to think about walking away from it, as I do each and every day. \n\nUntil this article, I have not seen as accurate and intelligent a description of the processes underlying discrimination in the academic workplace. A few papers in the medical literature have painstakingly and quantitatively documented that despite having equally elite educations, equal work hours, same numbers of papers, same numbers of grants, etc, women medical faculty do not advance as far or as fast as their male counterparts, and far more women simply drop out. However, no one has highlighted the "fitness" issues for women---but those are what make all the difference. Kudos.

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