Issues offer opportunities to make differences at MITColumn/Mathews M. Cherian
Freshmen will certainly have plenty of issues on which to express their opinions as they enter MIT this fall. I recently had a conversation with a professor in which we discussed many of the concerns facing the members of the Class of 1989.
The professor noted that in recent years MIT has been shifting from its traditional emphasis on science and engineering to a slightly more "liberal" perspective on education.
Many faculty members are concerned about whether MIT is placing the appropriate emphasis on humanities, giving the students the optimal combination of science and the liberal arts. Should MIT have a more humanities-oriented core curriculum similar to the curriculum of Columbia University or the University of Chicago? Is the current humanities requirement inadequate, adequate or overkill?
Perhaps requiring more humanities is not even the answer. Maybe the course load should be designed so a student can take as light a load or as heavy a load as [el-26p8]he wants. Students would thus be allowed more free time to delve into student government, the school newspaper, the radio station or numerous other school activities which provide enriching and broadening experiences.
The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) is another issue facing students. MIT does a tremendous amount of research for the Department of Defense (DOD). This research raises a number of questions over the ethics of working for the DOD.
Last year Professor Vera Kistiakowsky helped to spark discussion among the faculty and the MIT community with her proposal to form a committee to study the effects of SDI work at MIT. The faculty passed Kistiakowsky's proposal and recently named Professor Carl Kaysen chairman of the new Ad Hoc Committee on Military Research at MIT.
An issue which was not resolved last year was MIT's South African divestment policy. Anti-apartheid groups were staging protests on campus and students [el-26p8]were writing columns when the school year ended. With the escalation of conflicts in South Africa, divestment of South African investments will undoubtedly remain an issue on campus.
I could go on to list any number of other issues confronting students on campus. I have listed but a few to whet the freshmen's appetites.
The pass/fail system offers a unique opportunity for a freshman to get meaningfully involved in any issue. A freshman can gain nothing or everything from his first year with the margin of academic freedom pass/fail affords.
The freshman year at MIT is a time to establish good friendships, become accustomed to the workload, get involved in student activities and explore all conceivable interests. Freshmen must only refrain from getting carried away.
Just as classes before, the Class of 1989 has an opportunity to get involved in MIT, face the issues, and, most importantly, make a difference at MIT.