We wrote last November about MIT, our alma mater, that it "has caved repeatedly to the demands of 'wokeness,' treating its students unfairly, compromising the quality of its staff, and damaging the institution and academic freedom at large." A commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion had become an article of faith, with an aggressive program of minority admissions one of the commandments.
"Equity" is at the heart of this issue.
It sounds a lot like "equality," and many people glide over it without appreciating the difference. In an email one of us received from an MIT professor, his signature block said "Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion." However, in current usage, they are essentially opposites: Equality means that each person is given equal opportunity; equity means that outcomes must be equal, without regard for the capabilities or efforts of the individuals concerned.
Due in part to the pandemic, but also to achieve more "equity" in admissions, for the last two years, MIT dispensed with the requirement that applicants take the SAT or ACT tests. But last month, there was a new development: MIT became the first prominent university to reinstate the requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.
Stu Schmill, the dean of admissions, described the rationale for the decision this way in a blog post : "Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT."
There was still more woke rationale to come: "Our ability to accurately predict student academic success at MIT is significantly improved by considering standardized testing — especially in mathematics." Thus, "not having SAT/ACT scores to consider tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education."
What Schmill was really saying was that MIT doesn't know what to do with students who just can't cut it. At many universities, there are well-known "easy" majors such as physical education, sociology, or gender studies that are not, literally or figuratively, rocket science. So, if students find themselves unable to pass the coursework to major in, say, nuclear engineering or physics, they can move down the academic food chain. But at MIT, there are "General Institute Requirements," which are rigorous. Make that extremely rigorous. Every undergraduate has to take a semester each of chemistry and biology and two each of physics and calculus.
Both MIT and a 2020 study by the University of California found that standardized test scores are superior predictors of success for students who are minorities or from low-income families. High school grades are often inflated, and admission application essays can be "coached" or actually written by hired consultants. Thus, MIT administrators were caught in a Catch-22: In order to admit and graduate unqualified minority students, they would need to lower their academic standards.
Regardless, we applaud MIT's decision to restore the standardized tests for applicants. It's the best way to promote equality in the process.
Tom Hafer developed systems for neutralizing rockets and drones. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, was a research associate at the National Institutes of Health and the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology. They were undergraduates together at MIT.