Who Need Greater Proficiency in English? Professors or Graduate Students?

Editor’s Note: Either in this article or in our article of last week , we do not mean to suggest that Columbia, MIT & Princeton are the only Universities that impose the insulting TOEFL requirement on Ph.D.s, Master’s degree recipients from other Universities. We suspect many other Universities follow their lead and example. When we say Columbia-MIT-Princeton in these articles, we include any and all universities who impose the same type of requirements that these three schools do. Our focus is on Math-Fin graduate programs. These programs are not offered by many schools, so if you’re applying for one that does, here’s some helpful grad school resources. In the schools we know, we found problems with requirements at Columbia, MIT & Princeton and we mentioned Courant-NYU, Stanford as shining counterexamples. We did reach out to the Provosts, Deans & Math-Fin Program Directors at Columbia, MIT & Princeton for their responses to our article of last week. We have not heard from them. We name below a few professors from Columbia, MIT & Princeton. No disrespect, aspersion, illwill, or insult are intended towards or should be inferred by professors we name below and the selection of these professors is mostly on the basis of their position and place in the faculty web pages. Frankly, we would request all the professors described below to persuade their graduate deans and department heads to end the insulting TOEFL requirement imposed on their graduate student applicants.

Last week we wrote an article about Universities like Columbia, MIT, Princeton and their rather bizarre demands on student applicants whose undergraduate degrees are from non-US Universities. Regardless of what they might have achieved after their undergraduate degree, these applicants are required by these Universities to prove their English language efficiency by taking TOEFL, Test of English as Foreign Language Examination.

To show the utterly stupid nature of this requirement, we gave examples of the Dean of a top-tier Business School, CEO of a global Multinational, a celebrated Venture Capitalist and a senior executive of a global Investment Bank. Each one of these extreme high achievers would be required to take TOEFL under the Columbia-MIT-Princeton requirement.

We pointed out that like Color and Race, the first college degree of a person remains with that person all his or her life. To penalize that person, to heap indignities on that person based solely on this first degree seems unjust, cruel and discriminatory to us.

We believe that the vast majority of students get their first college degree in the country of their birth or residence. So, this requirement of Columbia, MIT & Princeton seems tantamount to discrimination based on national origin.

The above is a brief summary of the points made in our last week’s article Harvard MBAs, MIT Ph.D.s, Stanford Professors, Corporate CEOs – Should They Be Forced to Prove Basic English Proficiency to Columbia, MIT & Princeton?

This week we ask a basic question in our title. In a graduate studies program, a program as expensive as Masters in Quant-Finance or Mathematics of Finance, do professors need to have greater proficiency in English or do the graduate students?

This question would seem rhetorical to anyone but an academic official or a department head. A professor who teaches courses in such a program affects the education of all the students taught by the professor. So the lack of English proficiency of a professor affects the entire student body. In contrast, lack of English proficiency of a graduate students affects that student and not the entire program. If you concur, read on.

For easy reference, we quote below the requirements from the websites of Columbia, MIT & Princeton:

  • Columbia – …Applicants whose undergraduate degree was received in a country in which English is not the official and spoken language must meet the following requirements:….One of these requirements is TOEFL.
  • MIT M.Fin Applications whose first language is not English must submit IELTS (preferred) or TOEFL scores. The IELTS/TOEFL requirement may be waived for those who have earned or by the time of enrollment in the M.Fin. Program will have earned a bachelor’s degree from a school where English is the primary language of instruction. A 2-year graduate degree from an English speaking school is not sufficient to waive the IELTS/TOEFL requirement.
  • PrincetonApplicants whose native language is not English and who have not received their undergraduate education in the United States must take the TOEFL.

We argued above that it is more important for Professors at these Math-Fin programs to be proficient in English than the Graduate Students. Ergo, it follows that Professors at these Universities should meet at least the same requirements as graduate students as far as English proficiency is concerned.

So we went to the program websites to find out how many Professors fit the profile established by Columbia. MIT & Princeton for demonstration of English proficiency. To our surprise, a large number of professors at these schools fit the profile. We list a few examples without meaning any disrespect to those named below.

Princeton – Look at the Bendheim Center – Faculty page.

    • The Director of Princeton’s Bendheim Center of Finance is Yacine Ait-Sahalia. His undergraduate degree is from Ecole Polytechnique in France and his Ph.D. is from MIT. So he fits the profile that is required by Princeton to take the TOEFL.
    • The Director of Graduate Studies is Rene Carmona. His undergraduate degree is from Paris and his Ph.D. is from Marseilles, France. His bio does not show a degree from the USA. So he doubly fits the profile that is required by Princeton to take the TOEFL.
    • Professor Dilip Abreu. His undergraduate degree is from Bombay University and his Ph.D. is from Princeton. So he fits the profile that is required by Princeton to take the TOEFL.

    MIT – Look at the Faculty – Finance page. Professor Andrew Lo, Harris & Harris Group professor, is probably the most famous Quant in America. His Ph.D. is from Harvard. But neither the MIT website nor his webpage disclose where he received his undergraduate degree.

    • Professor Nittai Bergman – He received his Ph.D. from Harvard. But his undergraduate degree is from The Hebrew University, Israel. So he fits the profile that is required by MIT to take the TOEFL.
    • Professor Hui Chen – He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, but his undergraduate degree is from Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China.So he fits the profile that is required by MIT to take the TOEFL.
    • Professor Jun Pan, School of Management, Distinguished Professor of Finance. Prof. Pan has two Ph.D.s, one from Stanford, and one from NYU. But the undergraduate degree is from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. So Professor Pan fits the profile that is required by MIT to take the TOEFL.

    Columbia – Look at the Faculty page. The most intriguing aspect of Columbia Bios is the lack of disclosure of undergraduate degrees of their professors. For example, we could not find where well known Columbia professors such as Emmanuel Derman, Garud Iyengar, Steven Kou, David Yao received their undergraduate degrees. Their web pages are full of papers they wrote, the awards they received and other relevant information. But no information about their under-graduate degrees.

    We applaud this Columbia practice because we think after your doctorate, no one should care where you got your undergraduate degree. But Columbia does not apply this principle to Columbia’s student applicants, even students with Ph.D. in Physics, Math, Engineering or other sciences. And Columbia does not seem to apply it to Columbia Associate Professors either. For example:

    • Professor Rama Cont, Associate Professor & Director of Center for Financial Engineering at Columbia. His graduate and undergraduate degrees are from Paris, France. So he fits the profile that is required by Columbia to take the TOEFL.
    • Professor Vineet Goyal, Assistant Professor – His Ph.D. is from Carnegie Mellon and his undergraduate degree is from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. So he fits the profile that is required by Columbia to take the TOEFL.

    Based on these examples, we have some basic questions of Columbia, MIT & Princeton:

    • Did these professors have to take the TOEFL to prove their English proficiency before they were hired?
    • When a professor from another university is granted a Visiting Professor status at Columbia, MIT & Princeton, do these universities require TOEFL tests of these visiting professors if their undergraduate degrees are from a non-Anglo country?
    • When a new professor is hired by these universities, is the professor required to take the TOEFL if that professor fits the profile that is required to take the TOEFL?

    If the answer to these questions is NO, then it would suggest that these Universities think that English proficiency is less important for a professor than it is for a graduate student. How bizarre? And how unfair, cruel & discriminatory?

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