Students votw on three referenda
By Dawn Nolt
Voters in the Undergraduate Association elections expressed support for both a social responsibility pledge at Commencement and second-term freshman pass/no-credit grading. Three referenda on these issues appeared on Wednesday's ballot.
The first referendum, entitled "Graduation Pledge," asked voters if they would be in favor of a personal pledge for social and environmental responsibility that would be handed out along with the diploma at Commencement. The pledge would be signed and kept as a reminder of the student's obligation "to investigate... and weigh the... consequences of any professional activity that [he] may undertake." The referendum was approved by 50.6 percent of the voting student body, while 45.6 percent rejected it and 3.8 percent expressed no opinion.
According to Ajay Advani '91, who started the drive to place the pledge referendum on the ballot, the pledge would be optional and would not be used for any reason other than personal inspiration.
Advani decided to promote the pledge after talking to an individual who, along with others, distributed approximately 200 to 300 pledges at last year's commencement ceremony. The pledge was distributed in two sheets, the first being strictly informative and the second containing the actual pledge.
According to Class of 1989 President Carissa Climaco, who also attended last year's ceremony, the pledges were printed up to look like an official addition to the commencement literature, and misled many people into thinking that the MIT administration supported the social pledge. She said that only two pieces of literature are allowed at Commencement. One is the commencement booklet listing all the names of the graduating class, and the other is a special commencement issue of The Tech.
The idea of a pledge is hardly original, Advani noted. A university in Yugoslavia makes the pledge mandatory for political reasons, and a few other American colleges have initiated the pledge.
At the University of California at Berkeley, students of the physics department attempted to distribute a pledge that urged graduates to consider not using their knowledge for detrimental purposes, such as in weapon research. The Berkeley science faculty swiftly stifled this movement, according to Advani.
Advani presented his idea to the UA Council this year and received the support of fellow councilman and former UA President Manuel Rodriguez '89. Advani and Rodriguez went door-to-door and obtained 500 undergraduate signatures to put the pledge referendum on Wednesday's ballot.
Paul Antico '91, the newly-elected UA president, said he supports the social pledge. His course of action, which parallels that of Advani and Rodriguez, will be to discuss the referendum with the Graduate Student Council.
Advani plans to send out information and a response form in the GSC News. This will then give undergraduates an idea about how graduate students feel about the pledge, according to Advani.
The UA also plans to talk to the MIT administration in order to get official support and approval to distribute the pledge during Commencement, Advani said. If the pledge is approved, the UA will sit down with the Senior Commencement Committee to iron out the final wording of the pledge, according to Antico.
Both Advani and Rodriguez felt that the pledge will be taken seriously by graduating seniors. But Climaco did not believe that people will take the pledge to heart. She felt that graduating students will be more concerned about receiving their diplomas and most likely ignore the pledge sheets.
The idea of social responsibility, Climaco emphasized, should be fostered throughout one's academic life at MIT and not initiated with the signing of a written pledge at one's graduation. Although she felt that the pledge will be so vague as to be almost harmless, Climaco stressed that the idea of social responsibility should be kept in one's mind and heart, rather than written on a piece of paper.
Pass/no-credit receives support
The other two referenda dealt with student pass/no-credit options. Over 72 percent of voting students felt that their second-term freshman year experience with pass/no-credit grading was positive, while 12.8 percent felt is was negative and 5 percent had no opinion.
Almost half of the voters, 47.9 percent, favored keeping the pass/no-credit system the way it is now. Another 28.5 percent wanted to limit freshman pass/no-credit to first term only and allow students to take seven courses at any time afterwards on credit/no-credit, with some restrictions. The last printed option -- which is the one proposed by the Committee on the First-Year Program -- was approved by 9 percent of the voters, who wanted pass/no-credit limited to first-term freshman year, but also wanted the seven pass/fail courses limited to one a term, with some restrictions.
Antico said that both he and his running mate, Andrew P. Strehle '91, supported freshman pass/no-credit for both semesters of freshman year. He felt, however, that because of the many different needs and opinions of both faculty and students on this issue, more time should be spent on working out other options. Antico promised that both he and Strehle will go door-to-door to listen to student ideas about the grading system, and hopefully bring suggestions to the next faculty meeting on April 19.
Rodriguez supported the current pass/no-credit system but also felt that there is room for improvement. He felt that since MIT attracts such a diverse field of students with vastly different backgrounds and secondary school education, pass/no-credit grading for all of the freshmen year allows students to "catch up" on their preparation and become more capable to face the fierce academic competition at MIT. It also allows other students to get into the rhythm of studying, which might include four problem sets a week and other assignments, Rodriguez added.
The faculty is severely divided on the issue of pass/no-credit, according to Rodriguez. This was brought out at the Wednesday faculty meeting, he said. One professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science voiced his opinion that pass/no-credit should be taken away totally, while other members in the audience objected, according to Rodriguez.
Rodriguez explained that many faculty members use freshman pass/no-credit as a scapegoat to explain the laxity of poor grades by first-year students. He felt that a lot of responsibility should be placed on the faculty and that they should work to improve their teaching skills. The total blame of poor grades should not be placed on the shoulders of the students, Rodriguez felt.