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MIT begins reappraisal of its education

KNIGHT ED (ERIC): Please take care of R/O's in this file. Thanks. CJ

Somewhere on page 1, include sandwich quote: Educational reform has been in the works for a year. For a history of the developments during that year, see Page (whatever).

Educational reform has been in the works for a year. For a history of the developments during that year, see Page 2.


By Katie Schwarz

First in a series.

MIT has embarked on a "major reassessment of undergraduate education," said Dean of Humanities and Social Science Ann F. Friedlaender in a summary of a May meeting of humanities and engineering faculty.

The reappraisal could become one of the most significant landmarks in the Institute's history, said Dean for Undergraduate Education Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65.

The reform movement began a year ago with faculty concern that the humanities and social sciences are not receiving enough emphasis at MIT. The movement now encompasses consideration of the science requirements and balance in engineering education.

MacVicar will coordinate four faculty committees evaluating Institute requirements, engineering curricula and the possible establishment of an integrative program in liberal arts and technology.

The organization of the curriculum review began with a meeting May 9 and 10 at the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock, Vermont, among representatives of the School of Engineering, the School of Humanities and Social Science and the Provost's Office.

Four committees lead review

Two faculty committees were established immediately after the Woodstock meeting to examine the role of the humanities and social sciences in an MIT education. Two more committees will soon form to study the Institute's science and engineering education.

O+ A committee chaired by Professor of History Pauline R. Maier will draft a proposal for a new structure of the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) requirement by the end of January. The committee will soon hold its second meeting, according to MacVicar.

Maier's committee will address concern among humanities faculty that the present humanities distribution requirement is "too diffuse" and fails to provide enough breadth, according to Friedlaender's Woodstock summary.

The HASS Committee includes faculty from MIT's five Schools (Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Humanities and Social Science, Management and Science). The deans of the respective schools and the Dean for Undergraduate Education appointed its members.

O+ Leo Marx, professor of Science, Technology and Society, chairs a committee to explore the goals and feasibility of a program integrating liberal arts, science, and technology. The committee will report to Friedlaender by the end of January.

The deans of the Schools of Humanities and Social Science, Engineering and Science appointed representatives of their schools to this committee.

O+ Professor of Chemistry Robert J. Silbey will head a School of Science committee evaluating the General Institute Requirements in mathematics and science. This committee has not yet met.

The committee will investigate whether the requirements provide the desired educational foundation and whether their rationale is clear, MacVicar said.

O+ Jack L. Kerrebrock, head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Gerald L. Wilson '61, dean of Engineering, are organizing a review of engineering education. They will prepare a plan within the next few weeks. A School of Engineering committee will be established by the end of the fall term.

This committee will consider questions such as whether MIT should require five instead of four years for undergraduate degrees in engineering, MacVicar said. It will also evaluate the content and balance of engineering curricula.

Further problems to be examined

The Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education will study further issues not covered by the four faculty committees, MacVicar said.

O+ Professor of Psychiatry Benson R. Snyder has just completed a study of the long-term effects of the education of MIT's Class of 1965. Snyder asserted in a 1971 book, The Hidden Curriculum, that a school's unstated values are more influential than its official curriculum. MacVicar will consider how Snyder's report bears on the curriculum review.

O+ Associate Provost for Educational Policy and Programs Samuel J. Keyser has expressed serious doubts about Residence/Orientation (R/O) Week. "It was unanimously agreed that the current method of welcoming students to the Institute ... is highly dysfunctional," said Louis Menand III, special assistant to the provost, in a summary of a Woodstock session on student issues.

The faculty is worried that<>

R/O gives "short shrift to the sense of a community of scholars," MacVicar said. There should be more faculty/student contact during R/O, she continued. Keyser also objects to the current system of fraternity rush and residence selection, she said.

O+ The advising system for both freshmen and upperclassmen should be strengthened so that students can take fuller advantage of the Institute's resources, MacVicar said.

Many issues prompt reform

A combination of national and international concerns has focused attention on the role of science and technology in education, MacVicar said. "The timing is right" for MIT's self-examination.

"A mature appreciation of the interconnectedness of countries, peoples, cultures and economies" is the most important of these concerns, she emphasized. She also cited trade competition, a "fluid" political situation, the threat of nuclear war and health care. "Things are more complex than they ever used to be," she said.

Friedlaender remarked on the recent nationwide attention to the quality of higher education in a report she completed in June titled An Integrative Education at MIT. MIT has a responsibility to respond to a 1984 report by US Secretary of Education William Bennett accusing American education of general inadequacy, especially in the humanities, she said.

MacVicar stressed MIT's "public trust" as a reason for reviewing education. Students should be made conscious of "the responsibility to be thinking about the greater social impact and good" of their work, she explained. The faculty feels this "greater calling," she said, but students are not aware of it.

MacVicar also emphasized the need for interdisciplinary study of problems related to both the technological and humanistic realms. She cited health and medicine as an example of such a problem. Medicine includes "the ethics of saving lives, of scarce resources and of access decisions," she explained.

Most professional scholars work at the boundaries of their disciplines, she continued. "A discipline is all boundaries and no center," but education focuses on the established center. She concluded that education needs to "catch up and show the interrelatedness of things."

MIT takes "the next step"

The present curriculum review could be as important to MIT's future as the Institute's self-examination after World War II, MacVicar said.

The 1949 Report of the Committee on Educational Survey (The Lewis Report) shifted MIT from a "vocational" to a "professional" stance. The report also reaffirmed undergraduate engineering education, established the School of Humanities and Social Science, put in place the eight-term HASS requirement and provided the general foundation for MIT's development in the three decades that followed.

The Lewis Report was "part of our emergence" as a leading university, MacVicar said. The current reforms represent "the next step," she added.

Strengthening the role of the humanities in MIT's education will not necessarily result in a greater workload for students, MacVicar asserted. "We can accomplish better" education in the same amount of time.