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Faculty approves biology core class

By Michael Gojer

The faculty endorsed the idea of adding a subject in biology to the Institute Science Requirement at Wednesday's faculty meeting, though the form of the requirement is yet to be determined. Several faculty members said they would propose alternatives to the Committee on the Undergraduate Program's planned two-term pilot sequence in chemistry, materials, and biology.

The addition of biology is the first major change in the science core in the last twenty five years, according to Dean for Undergraduate Education Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65. The motivation for the change corresponds to the increasing importance of modern biology in these years, she said. The faculty approved the motion with only a handful of "no" votes.

CUP's motion before the faculty includes the development of the biology pilot along with a chemistry pilot (in molecular and/or solid state chemistry) to "enable satisfaction of core requirements [in those subjects] ... within two semesters." The motion also calls for consideration of a reduction in the number of Science Distribution subjects from three to two.

In addition, the CUP motion recommends theestablishment of a Committee on the Science Component of the General Institute Requirements. Three objectives are cited in the motion for this committee: (1) assessment of the new pilot courses and recommendations for the inclusion of biology in the science component of the General Institute Requirements; (2) a review of the objectives of the Science Distribution Requirement and of the quality of individual Science Distribution subjects; and (3) an ongoing review of the science component of the General Institute Requirements.

CUP will formalize its motion in the next few months, MacVicar said.

Biology, chemistry to plan

biology pilots of their own

Many faculty criticized the CUP's proposed implementation of the requirement, faulting the planned integrated chemistry/materials/biology pilot course on the grounds that it might end up as a loosely-defined survey course. "Inevitably, something will suffer," said Professor of Chemistry Daniel S. Kemp, who has taught Principles of Chemical Science (5.11). "I really don't think it can all be done in two terms."

Richard O. Hynes PhD '71, associate head of the Department of Biology, and Mark S. Wrighton, head of the Department of Chemistry, both said they supported the intent of CUP's motion, although they did not expect the details of the final requirement to end up as proposed by CUP. The biology faculty will be proposing alternative subject sequences for the biology requirement in the next year or two, Hynes said. The chemistry faculty might do likewise, according to Wrighton.

A biology core subject should not be a "smorgasbord," Hynes said. He noted that the biology faculty felt that "this course should be a foundation," not an "overview" and that they thought there were better options than the CUP proposal.

Wrighton concurred. "There has been a tradition at MIT," he said, "that core subjects are an introduction to the discipline."

Wrighton further criticized the two-term sequence proposed by CUP for having too dense a curriculum goal and for creating administrative difficulty for the faculty involved in teaching the interdepartmental course. Furthermore, he said, creating a year-long sequence would decrease flexibility in student schedules.

Wrighton also remarked that the Department of Chemistry expects its entering majors would be less well prepared by the CUP's proposed three-subject course than they are under the status quo, though he acknowledged that that did not concern the whole faculty.

The only word of caution on the issue of including biology in the core came from Ann F. Friedlaender PhD '64, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science. Friedlaender said care must be taken to ensure that the two Science Distribution subjects remaining in a student's curriculum after the biology requirement is introduced are a "real" distribution and are not simply absorbed by departmental requirements -- otherwise the curriculum change will simply be "taking away one more degree of freedom from students."