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UA foprum questions role of the humanities at MIT

"The real question that is confronting MIT at the moment is the role of humanities," said Associate Provost S. Jay Keyser Thursday night at a forum examining humanities at MIT.

Approximately 40 students and faculty attended the Undergraduate Association sponsored forum, which was held at East Campus.

People in engineering are worried that students are not ready for positions of leadership, according to Keyser. "I don't like the idea of leaders," he said. "The notion of training leaders worries me."

MIT students "do not have appreciation for the social, political and economic impact of their tools," Keyser said. MIT should develop some method of education to create "a serious discussion of these issues," he continued.

Keyser cited three examples of science getting out of hand: the large number of infections occurring in hospitals, acid rain and the displacement of the job force by robots. "We can't see further than the front of our face," he said.

Mark A. Curtiss '87, undergraduate representative on the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) Committee, said the current committee was formed because of the reports of two committees which looked at the HASS requirement. The charge of the committee is to develop a specific program to replace the HASS requirement, he said.

Pauline R. Maier, chairman of the HASS Committee, said "students were taking so many different things they had nothing to talk about."

MIT students are becoming too narrow, Keyser added. MIT's "education does not provide the type of social training needed," he said.

"We're trying to define what an MIT student should get," Curtiss said. The HASS committee is considering five categories of humanities: cultural; historical; literature; context, such as science and society; and non-verbal -- for example, dance. The categories are up for discussion, Curtiss said.

Many students at the forum were opposed to any humanities requirement. One student said he could have gone to a city college to take a Shakespeare course. Some students felt that the HASS requirement was contrary to their goal of getting a good engineering job.

Others argued that the HASS requirement would yield more creative engineers. Several said humanities courses would be good preparation for management positions.

One student asserted students interested in management would go to schools like Harvard; MIT should worry about training engineers.

"MIT students, when left to themselves, take a course that is career-oriented," Keyser said. "Most took economics, a writing course and a foreign language."

Some students were against a humanities requirement because it restricted the courses they could take. A student said he was advised not to take Spanish I because it was not a humanities distribution course (HUM-D). He wanted the option of taking the humanities he desired.

There is feeling that the HUM-D requirement is too broad, Curtiss said. Too many classes are HUM-Ds, he added.

Students should study "for the sheer delight of it," Keyser said. "When I went to college you never had to worry about getting a job.... You guys don't have that kind of freedom," he added.

The humanities requirement is a way to make better people, Maier added.