The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 72.0°F | Fog/Mist

Humanities under review

[mk1]By Mary Condello

Second in a series.

Two faculty committees formed to study the current status of the humanities requirements and liberal arts at MIT have begun meeting. Both were established in response to the Woodstock meeting, a May conference among humanities and engineering faculty and administration.

The two committees will prepare draft reports for discussion and distribution by the end of January.

Professor of History Pauline Maier chairs a committee which is examining MIT's humanities, arts, and social sciences (HASS) requirement. The Committee for an Integrative Curriculum, chaired by Leo Marx, professor of Science, Technology and Society, will investigate ways of integrating liberal arts and technical studies.

"There is a widespread sense that the number of humanities and social science classes certified for distribution is too large," Maier said. Dean of Humanities and Social Science Ann F. Friedlaender called the humanities curriculum "too unstructured and unfocused."

The HASS committee will produce a draft for a restructured humanities requirement. Members of the committee agree that the requirement needs reforming but have no definite consensus yet on how to change it, Maier added.

The faculty is concerned that the approximately 150 humanities distribution (HUM-D) subjects do not provide a coherent basis for the liberal arts, and that the requirement does not ensure enough breadth. It is possible for a student to satisfy the HUM-D requirement using three classes with similar content, Maier explained.

Faculty members of the School of Engineering complained about the lack of a "common culture" among undergraduates, Maier said. There exists no core of humanities classes taken by all students, she added.

It will be a difficult task to restructure the requirements while "retaining choice and small classroom format," Maier said.

The exact nature of student participation has not been determined. Presently, the committee is composed of faculty members only. Students can make their opinions known by discussing them with the faculty members, who may relate them to the committee.

The proposals must ultimately be presented to the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP), which has student members. The issue of student input will be taken up at a future meeting, according to Maier.

The other members of the HASS committee are Alan Guth '68, associate professor of Physics; John Hildebidle, assistant professor of Literature; Stephen Lippard, professor of Chemistry; Gary Marx, professor of Urban Studies; Louis Menand III, special assistant to the Provost; Merritt Roe Smith, professor of Science, Technology and Society; George Stephanopoulos, professor of Chemical Engineering; Lotte Bailyn, professor of Management; and an additional member of the engineering faculty to be chosen.

New Humanities Program Considered

The purpose of the Committee for an Integrative Curriculum is "to design a curriculum which would offer a special liberal arts education at MIT for 100--150 students each year," Marx said.

"Around the country, a lot of rethinking of curricula is going on. In many traditional liberal arts schools, there's a big drive for more awareness of science and technology and their role in life [to be reflected in the curriculum]," he continued.

Marx said the committee may eventually make a "proposal for some modification of Institute requirements." This modification could attract qualified students with a strong liberal arts inclination to apply to MIT.

Marx made it clear that there would be no attempts to "dilute the strong science base [of MIT]." He said it is possible to "maintain and perhaps even strengthen science and engineering here."

The committee is still in the planning stages. Some topics it may address are the formation of a major in the integrative curriculum, a dual major of the integrative curriculum and a currently existing major, and recommendations of core courses in humanities, arts, and social sciences for all undergraduates. Marx stressed that nothing conclusive has been decided.

There has been a "long history of attempts like this at MIT," Marx pointed out. He has "no illusions" that his committee's proposals will be accepted in their entirety.

Marx will work closely with the other committees on educational reform, particularly the HASS committee. He also mentioned a desire for student input, but wasn't certain how it should be obtained.

The other members of the committee are John Harbison, professor of Music; Philip Khoury, associate professor of History; Arthur Mattuck, head of the Mathematics Department; Marsha Rosner, assistant professor of Applied Biology; J. Francis Ogilvie, head of the Ocean Engineering Department; Joseph M. Sussman, head of the Civil Engineering Department; Irene Tayler, professor of Literature; Martin Weitzman, professor of Economics; and Jeremy Wolfe, assistant professor of Psychology.