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Graduates petition to reform curricula

By Burt S. Kaliski

The role of graduate students in the review of the undergraduate curriculum is now under discussion following recent recommendations by the Undergraduate Association (UA), the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and the MIT administration.

The GSC approved a motion Oct. 16 supporting the participation of at least one graduate student on each of the four ad hoc committees that are considering reforms to the undergraduate curriculum.

A second resolution recommended that any graduate student be allowed to serve on any Institute committee, regardless of where the student conducted her or his undergraduate studies.

Without the measure, graduate students in departments that do not have undergraduate programs or that do not accept some MIT undergraduates into their graduate programs would be ineligible to serve on some committees, according to Janine M. Nell G, GSC president.

The Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) has considered involving only those graduate students who attended MIT as undergraduates, said Robin M. Wagner G at the GSC meeting. The other committees have not sought any graduate student membership, she said.

One of the CUP's major functions is to seek educational innovation and formulate proposals for change, Wagner said. The diversity provided by students who did their undergraduate work elsewhere might further the committee's goal, she continued.

Associate Provost for Educational Policy and Programs Samuel J. Keyser said he favors graduate student participation on the committees.

The counsel of graduate students who are MIT alumni would be "very valuable," he said, and students from other institutions "can also bring a perspective."

He stressed that the important issue is not representation, but "making sure that graduate student views are included." How these views would be included, he said, would be determined by the chairmen of the four committees. Keyser sits on the CUP, but not on any of the other four committees.

A graduate student who just completed an undergraduate education is "a valuable resource," said UA President Bryan R. Moser '87. Such a resource is vital in answering "fundamental, philosophical questions about what MIT as a university should be."

Participation in educational policy decisions should be "more than a vote," Moser said. It should involve "being prepared ahead of time [and] knowing what the issues are."

"There should be an avenue available for graduate students if there is interest" in advising educational policy, Nell said. Whether there would be continued interest, she said, is "difficult to predict."

The GSC made its recommendation for three reasons, Nell explained. First, certain MIT graduate departments do not accept MIT undergraduates. Second, diversity encourages "innovation." Third, "enthusiasm and interest" are more appropriate criteria than the undergraduate institution which they attended.

Chairmen's opinions vary

Jack L. Kerrebrock, head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Dean of Engineering Gerald L. Wilson '61 co-chair a committee reviewing engineering education. That committee is likely to include only faculty members, Kerrebrock said. Students would participate in smaller meetings in each of the eight engineering departments.

Leo Marx, professor of science, technology and society, heads a committee studying an integrated liberal arts and technology program. While "certainly not closed to the idea," he said he is concerned that new members may have difficulty catching up with eight weeks of activity.

(Editor's note: The UA is currently advertising for a student position on this committee. See UA News this issue.)

What's the story? Marx said that the role of students is "still under consideration"; this may imply that a nomination is contingent on the committee's decision to involve students.

Robert J. Silbey, professor of chemistry, chairs a committee studying mathematics and science requirements. The members "would all welcome the counsel of students in our deliberation," whether undergraduate or graduate, he said. "Choosing the right people is still hard."

Pauline R. Maier, professor of history, heads a committee studying the humanities, arts and social sciences requirement. The perspective of undergraduates is "more desparately needed" than that of graduate students, in part due to the undergraduate emphasis of the humanities programs, she said.

That is, as opposed to other schools such as engineering that employ large numbers of graduate students as teaching assistants.

(Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, dean for undergraduate education, chairs the Committee on the Undergraduate Program. She was out of town last week.)

Wasn't able to get in touch with her.

Lack of student

involvement cited

Wagner, once a student member of the former Committee on Educational Policy, is also co-founder of MIT Student Pugwash. She has been active in raising the issue of graduate student participation, and claims the faculty has been reluctant to seek student input.

She cites "seven months worth of lack of student involvement" up to and following the Woodstock, VT, meeting in May which initiated the curriculum review. Another example, which Moser noted, was a New York Times article on MIT's curriculum reform published on Sept. 29 -- before MIT announced the review to students.

The issue of graduate student participation in undergraduate educational policy decisions is seen as an example of a larger problem. Wagner characterized the difficulty as a "lack of student input."

Moser's thoughts are similar: "Graduate students need to be understood a lot better around here."