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Curricular reforms studied during last academic year

The Councils of the School of Engineering and the School of Humanities and Social Science held two meetings in the fall of 1984 to discuss "the Institute's curriculum, culture and student body," stated Dean of Humanities and Social Science Ann F. Friedlaender's summary of the Woodstock meeting.

Two concerns sparked the reform effort, according to the summary: a feeling on the part of the humanities faculty that the HASS requirement is unstructured and does not ensure enough breadth and a desire for better communication between the School of Engineering and the School of Humanities and Social Science.

MIT's engineering faculty had complained that its students were too narrowly educated, according to an article in the New York Times, Sept. 29.

Dean of Engineering Gerald L. Wilson '61 and Friedlaender appointed two committees in January, 1985 to produce a substantive agenda for discussion. John M. Deutch '61, appointed provost in February, accelerated the reform movement by creating the positions of Dean for Undergraduate Education and Associate Provost for Educational Policy and Programs.

He appointed Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, professor of Physical Science, and Samuel J. Keyser, head of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, respectively, to the positions. Deutch also appointed additional members to the committees.

Both committees had finished their work by May. One of the two committees, chaired by Associate Professor of Literature Travis R. Merritt, reported on the history and current status of Institute humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) programs and requirements and compared them to corresponding programs at schools comparable to MIT.

The Merritt Committee found that the core of humanities subjects required at MIT until 1974 lost its coherence through increasing diversification and professional specialization of the humanities faculty. It also reported that most other institutions comparable to MIT have some kind of breadth or distribution requirement, but lack an integrated core of mandatory humanities subjects.

Kenneth Keniston, Professor of Science, Technology and Society, chaired the second committee. His group produced a report, titled Visionary Studies, which suggested possible future roles for the humanities in an MIT education.

The Keniston report urged MIT to work toward "dual literacy" in both the scientific and humanistic fields for all its students. The report also recommended overall expansion of the HASS requirement, greater structure and attention to breadth in the requirement and the establishment of more "interface" courses teaching both about technical issues and about their cultural contexts.

The Woodstock meeting in May was intended "to provide a forum in which a wide range of concerns ... could be shared and to determine areas of agreement concerning the role of the liberal arts in a scientific and technical education," according to Friedlaender's summary.

Participants in the meeting included department and section heads within the Schools of Engineering and of Humanities and Social Science, the members of the Keniston and Merritt Committees, Deutch, MacVicar, Keyser and incoming Chairman of the Faculty Mary C. Potter.

The Woodstock meeting covered a range of topics, including much attention to the climate at MIT, i.e., high pace and pressure and relatively low respect for the humanities. Participants at the meeting agreed that the Institute's main emphasis should continue to center on the education of scientists and engineers, and sought not to dilute that strength, but to broaden it.

Friedlaender wrote the final draft of a paper on An Integrative Education at MIT in June. She hopes to eventually attract 100 to 150 students per class to major in liberal arts while acquiring a strong scientific background. A new degree program should be established for these students which would concentrate on "the integration and synthesis of the many forms of knowledge," the paper states.