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Students request reform input

By Anu Vedantham

Of the four curriculum reform committees established last academic year, only the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Committee has appointed a student representative. The committee named Mark Curtiss '87 as a member.

The School of Science Education Committee, the Committee on Integrated Studies, the Commission on Engineering Undergraduate Education and the HASS Committee have all considered student representation and other forms of student input.

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) and the Student Committee on Educational Policy (SCEP) initiated the drive for student representation with letters to Dean for Undergraduate Education Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65. Undergraduate Association (UA) President Bryan R. Moser '87 said that he "met with [MacVicar] more than once" during the summer to discuss student input to the curriculum reform committees.

Moser and UA Vice President Mary S. Tai '87 spoke with MacVicar regarding the reforms at the beginning of the summer. Moser and two SCEP representatives spoke about similar concerns with MacVicar at the end of the summer.

MacVicar deferred the decision concerning student representation to the various committee chairmen, according to GSC President Janine Nell G.

The GSC, UA, SCEP, MIT Student Pugwash, the MIT Disarmament Study Group and the MIT Hunger Action Committee are among student groups that have urged MIT curriculum reform committees to increase input from students, according to Robin Wagner G, a member of Pugwash.

The HASS committee, chaired by Professor of History Pauline Maier, voted Nov. 15 to seek an undergraduate -- but not a graduate -- representative. The Undergraduate Association Nominations Committee then interviewed undergraduates and selected Curtiss.

"My duty ... is to represent the undergraduate view as accurately as I can," Curtiss said. "I also feel a personal responsibility to put as much time into this as I can.

"I think I have a good feeling for how MIT students consider the humanities curriculum..." he continued. "For this committee, one student representative is enough since it's a very small committee." The HASS committee has 10 to 11 members, Curtiss said.

Professor of Literature John Hildebidle, member of the HASS committee, said, "I think it's very helpful to have someone who's actually experiencing the undergraduate curriculum.... He is a very, very helpful voice.

"My sense is that on the whole students are not radically discontent with the present HASS requirements," Hildebidle said. "There has not been enough time to survey the undergraduate population." He believes that the committee's work is too far along for a graduate representative to catch up.

The HASS committee decided on Nov. 15 not to appoint a graduate student representative. The committee did not relay that decision to the GSC until early December, according to Wagner.

"The total picture that emerges at least in my mind is that students have been so far a low priority to the faculty and administration," she said. "And I think that there is substantial room for improvement and hope that it occurs soon."

Jack L. Kerrebrock, department head of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, chairs the Commission on Engineering Education. The Commission decided Nov. 25 against any student representation. It instead plans to focus on individual departments and accept student input from each department, according to Wagner. Kerrebrock could not be reached for comment.

The Commission held an open forum yesterday to solicit student input. [Editor's note: See related story, page 1.] "Even though I think it's wonderful that the faculty members are meeting with students," Wagner said, "it would be better if they didn't schedule major forums during the last week of classes.

"I am not convinced at this time that any guarantee of student input is available, any guarantee that most or all students in the departments are aware of these opportunities," she added. "They rejected the idea [of a student member] on the basis of breadth. But I think breadth would be enhanced by student representation."

The School of Science Education Committee agreed on Nov. 25 that it should include student representation. The committee, however, is not yet ready for a student member, according to Professor of Chemistry Robert Silbey, chairman of the committee.

"There are many ways of getting student input," he said. "We have come to no final conclusion.... We got started late. Right now we are really educating ourselves about the freshman science requirements.

"No undergraduate student committee, or individual student, has ever asked me [if the committee or student could] be a member of the committee," Silbey said. "Some graduate students have expressed interest."

The Integrated Studies Committee, chaired by Professor of Science, Technology and Society Leo Marx, decided in late October to have both an undergraduate and a graduate representative, according to Wagner. Both students will be chosen this week, she said.

Professor of Literature Irene Tayler, a member of the committee, said that no action regarding the appointment of student representatives was taken at yesterday's committee meeting.

The committee will not meet over winter brak and is scheduled to make its report in January. "The lack of coordination between committees and important people has preempted any meaningful input," Wagner said. "There needs to be a greater emphasis on student input."

"I don't understand how a graduate representative could but help a committee," Nell said. "I don't know what the committees are afraid a student representative would do. A graduate representative would provide a more experienced outlook."

"If there had been a more coordinated effort to involve students at the formation of the committees," Wagner noted, "we might have experienced fewer delays in getting students on these committees and getting more meaningful student input."