Integrated course draws fire at faculty meeting
By Andrew L. Fish
Some chemistry and biology faculty members expressed dissatisfaction with the Committee on the Undergraduate Program's motion to offer an experimental year-long integrated course in chemistry, materials science, and biology at Wednesday's faculty meeting.
The motion is a precursor of a plan to add a biology requirement to the undergraduate curriculum. A proposal to eliminate the second semester of freshman pass/no-credit grading was also discussed at the faculty meeting.
In addition, the faculty approved several changes to MIT's Policies and Procedures which were recommended by the Committee on Reorganization and Closing of Academic Units.
Integrated course criticized
The CUP introduced two motions which would change the undergraduate curriculum. One would endorse the inclusion of biology in the science core, the reduction of the science distribution requirement to two subjects, and the development of the integrated chemistry, biology, and material science course. The second would eliminate the second semester of freshman pass/no-credit grading and allow students, with some restrictions, to select one credit/no-credit subject each semester, with a maximum of seven.
Some objected to the proposal for the new biology requirement, especially because they believed the new experimental integrated subject would not provide the same content as the current chemistry core classes.
"To include more biology is an excellent idea," said Professor Stephen J. Lippard, one of the instructors of Principles of Chemical Science (5.11). But Lippard was opposed to the experimental integrated subject. He said such an "experiment will always work" because of the enthusiasm of the faculty involved, but that the content of the offering would be "very different." The proposal would be the equivalent of having introductory physics taught jointly by the Departments of Physics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Lippard said. "It would be a good course, but it wouldn't be the same course." Lippard said 5.11 provides an adequate background for a chemistry subject.
Lippard said he was speaking for Chemistry Department Head Mark S. Wrighton (who has taught 5.11 in the past), and added that he had spoken with no member of his department who agreed with the plan. But Professor Robert J. Silbey, who also taught 5.11, is a member of the team planning the integrated course.
Professor Boris Magasanik of the Department of Biology said that several members of his department were opposed to the plan, and that other options should be available to students who have a better background in biology. "I think teaching of a subject should not be a committee matter," he added.
Professor Vernon Ingram, who is working on the integrated course and currently teaches General Biology (7.01), said he was "not quite so sure of success" as his colleagues were. He urged the approval of the integrated course, noting that his original study was in the field of organic chemistry.
Provost John M. Deutch '61, who is also a chemistry professor, said the integrated "tripartite" experiment should be tried only if there is a second experiment with separate chemistry and biology subjects. This plan "could make more sense," Deutch said. Also, Deutch expressed concern about the "resource allocations" involved in the integrated subject.
The CUP also introduced a motion to eliminate the second semester of freshman pass/no-credit grading and allow one credit/no-credit subject to be taken each semester after the first. Professor Anthony P. French said that, while the motion did not have the unanimous support of the CUP, it was backed by the majority of the members.
The plan was attacked from both sides at the meeting. Professor William T. Peake '51 said "pass/fail is a disservice to the students." He said "some students are fooled by pass/fail," and that it was an "insult" to the outside world to keep grades confidential. Some students "see no difference between one set of P's and another set of P's," he said.
Professor John L. Wyatt Jr. '68 criticized allowing a D to count as a passing grade in the first semester of the freshman year. Allowing students to continue with a D in a prerequisite is like letting them "onto the field of battle without a weapon."
Wyatt also attacked the proposal to allow one credit/_no-credit subject every semester, saying it would grade students on their "game playing" ability rather than their performance. He showed a case where the same performance could yield a 4.5 grade point average or a 3.9 GPA depending on the choices of pass/no-credit classes.
But Associate Provost S. Jay Keyser said he did not think the debate was really about pass/_no-credit. Rather, it was an issue of whether students were children or adults. Keyser also saw the issue as one of pace and pressure, and said it was premature to change the grading system in order to solve a perceived problem.
Both CUP motions will be discussed and voted on next month.
The faculty also approved changes recommended in the wake of the closing of the Department of Applied Biological Sciences last January. The changes require a committee to be convened prior to departmental reorganizations, and that tenure not be terminated by the closing of a department, unless there are dire financial conditions at the Institute. Some changes to the Rules of the Faculty will be approved next month.
Some faculty members in the Departments of Chemistry and Biology expressed dissatisfaction with the Committee on the Undergraduate Program's motion to offer an experimental year-long integrated course in chemistry, materials science, and biology next year. The motion is a precursor of a plan to add a biology requirement to the undergraduate curriculum. This motion, along with a proposal to eliminate the second semester of freshman pass/no credit, were discussed at Wednesday's faculty meeting.