The editor responds: MIT alumni revisited

SLF notmyaddress at
Tue Oct 31 02:40:59 EST 2000

As you may recall, some time ago I described to you some derogatory
remarks about women  in a  recent issue of the MIT alumni association
magazine , which occupies a section in a rather good science magazine
called TECHNOLOGY REVIEW.  I told you about them, and wrote a letter
to the magazine to complain.  The new issue has printed
both my letter and the editor's response.  I'm curious what the readers
here think of the response.

My letter to the editor describing the problem.
SF> Recently I received the current issue of Technology Review, now
SF> being sent to all MIT alumni. While reading the MIT News insert
SF> section of the magazine about the 50th year reunion of the class of
SF> 1950, I was surprised to read the following (p. 6 of the MIT News):
SF> "One alumnus, Ralph Horne '50, found the fact that 42 percent of
SF> the student body is now made up of women to be unbelievable, and
SF> perhaps even detrimental. 'Women do not have a good track record in
SF> the sciences. Some women are very smart and some have very good
SF> study habits. They performed well in high school and they very well
SF> could perform at MIT,' Horne explained. 'But science is like art.
SF> You have to have a creative gift and that cannot be taught. The
SF> historical record for women in science isn't very encouraging.'"
SF> The article did go on to say "But women are here to stay at the
SF> institute and most alumni attending Tech Reunions praised MIT for
SF> recognizing their talent and contribution." However, this did not
SF> ease the bad taste left by Mr Horne's unpleasant remarks.
SF> Why did the alumni magazine feel the need to give Mr Horne the
SF> opportunity to imply that women don't belong at MIT ? In what way
SF> was his misguided opinion on women's scientific talents relevant to
SF> the story of the reunion? Would you have included similarly
SF> prejudiced comments from an alum about African-American, Asian, or
SF> Hispanic scientists?
SF> Giving space to these comments legitimizes them, and insults the
SF> talented, hard working women of the MIT community. Alumni magazines
SF> are supposed to be feel-good organs of the institution. It
SF> certainly doesn't make me feel very good about MIT that you
SF> considered it appropriate to air this anti-women attitude.
SF> These remarks offer a bitter counterpoint to recent and laudable
SF> efforts to make the Institute fair and inclusive (for example, the
SF> 1999 faculty report on the status of women). The thoughtless
SF> inclusion of his comments in the reunion article suggests that the
SF> greater Institute community still has a long way to go to make all
SF> its members feel welcome.
SF> I am very disappointed.
SF> Yours sincerely,
SF> Susan L Forsburg PhD '89

The editor's response:

ED> The editorial mission of the MIT news is to objectively cover the
ED> Institute and its alumni constituency. Contrary to Ms. Forsburg's
ED> assertion that "Alumni magazines are supposed to be feel-good
ED> organs of the institution," the mission of today's TR is not to be
ED> a cheerleader for MIT. The staff of MIT News presents the latest
ED> news about campus and alumni to our readers, and we let readers
ED> make their own value judgements about what it means to MIT and
ED> their lives. As for Ms. Forsburg's assertion that we would not have
ED> printed derogatory remarks about an African-American or a Hispanic
ED> scientist, she raises a good point which the staff of the MIT news
ED> will take into account in future issues.

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S L Forsburg, PhD  Associate Professor
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA

Women in Biology Internet Launch Page
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