MIT Must Keep Focus on Gender Diversity


The resignation in disgrace of Marilee Jones, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's admissions director, is a tragedy for several reasons not widely reported elsewhere.

For one, Jones played an important role in boosting the percentage of women admitted to the nation's most prestigious technology institution. MIT's website boasts that the school admitted its first female student in 1871. Bravo! But even some 90 years later, women made up just 2 percent of the student body. As of last fall, however, "1,817 women were enrolled as undergraduates (44 percent) and 1,821 as graduate students (30 percent)."

Among the innovations that took place while Jones worked in the admissions office was an aggressive effort to reach out to potential female students. The Tech, whose masthead describes it as "MIT's Oldest and Largest Newspaper," reports, "Admissions Office officials attribute the rise in female applicants to several factors, including the new view book, the current admissions video, and a special letter sent out to 1,200 prospective female applicants who scored well on the Scholastic Aptitude Test."

It's also tragic that Jones's public disgrace comes at a time that for some quirky reason the number of women working in technology is actually dropping. In June 2005, the Information Technology Association of America reported, "the percentage of women in the IT workforce declined from a high of 41 percent in 1996 to 32.4 percent in 2004. Meanwhile, the percentage of women in the overall workforce remained largely unchanged, from 46 to 46.5 percent, during the same period."

It's sad enough that Jones fabricated her own educational record to get a job in the MIT admissions office. It would be sadder still if her resignation led to a lesser effort by that institution to recruit and train women in a field that is mushrooming overall but somehow managing to lose female talent simultaneously.