Admissions report tops faculty meeting agenda
By Irene C. Kuo
and Niraj S. Desai
The May report of the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid was the center of long discussion at Wednesday's faculty meeting, at which the progress of the presidential search committee, the recommendations of the Context Review Group, and the need for minority faculty were also brought up.
Professor Keith D. Stolzenbach '66, chair of CUAFA, reiterated the report's three recommendations, which were for the Admissions Office to retain current recruitment practices and use of non-numerical indices, for it to place greater weight on demonstrated capability in "MIT's traditional strengths in mathematics and science," and for MIT to strengthen faculty linkages to the admissions process.
"The goal is not to [admit a class with higher test scores], though it might happen," Stolzenbach said.
Several faculty members, while satisfied with the high test scores of the Class of 1993, even suggested that the emphasis on analytical and quantitative skills be strengthened. Professor Anthony P. French noted that the doubling in size of the applicant pool over the past 10 to 20 years has not improved the "overall academic level," or the yield from students in the highest numerical indices. "Are we deliberately encouraging applications from students who won't be admitted?" he asked.
Another professor suggested that the Admissions Office accept everyone in the highest category of grades and test scores. "We might get some nerds, but there is the chance we would get some really excellent students," he said.
Responding to these comments, President Paul E. Gray '54 defended the diversity of the latest generation of students.
Professor Vera Kistiakowsky stressed that MIT should focus on attracting "diverse, thinking, caring human beings." None of the standardized tests measure the potential to become a good research scientist, she noted.
Professor Louis D. Smullin '39 expressed concern about MIT's recent elimination of its high school physics requirement. "MIT sends an important signal when it says what is needed and what is not needed. If we are , maybe we on our own actions should do something about it," he said, alluding to last week's Institute-wide colloquium on the crisis in science education.
Faculty members have delegated the admissions process to specialists at the Educational Testing Service and the special offices, asserted Hartley Rogers Jr., professor of mathematics. He said that with students of such educational promise, MIT's professors delegate this responsibility with some danger.
In response to concern about the future of need-blind admissions and merit-blind financial aid, Stolzenbach could only say that it was a "constant possible topic."
No deadline for
The Corporation and faculty committees searching for a new president for MIT have set no firm deadline for the conclusion of their search, reported Institute Professor Robert M. Solow. Solow chairs the faculty advisory committee on the presidential search.
The two committees agreed that to ensure a thorough search "we ought not to say to ourselves that we must finish by a particular time," Solow explained. But the groups do hope to have a candidate sometime next spring, he added. Gray announced last spring that he would leave the presidency to assume chairmanship of the MIT Corporation on July 1.
While Solow would not discuss candidates, he said the committees were looking at people both inside and outside the Institute, and considering the drawbacks and benefits of having someone who presently does not work at MIT become president.
The faculty committee and the Corporation committee have worked together as absolute partners in the search process, Solow said. There has never been a suggestion that the opinions of the faculty are not desired or respected, he said. Solow urged faculty members to continue to volunteer advice about the search process and possible candidates.
So far the committees have been advised that they should look for a "weighted average of Winston Churchill, Niels Bohr, and Lee Iacocca," Solow reported.
Context group presents report
The Institute Context Review Group, chaired by former Provost Frances E. Low, formally presented its report to the faculty at Wednesday's meeting. The group had been appointed by Dean for Undergraduate Education Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65 last October to evaluate MIT's Context offerings and make proposals for the future.
Context courses are classes which attempt to combine technical studies with knowledge of the societal contexts (e.g. political, ethical, economic) in which science and engineering are practiced. Among the classes offered by the MIT Context Program this term are Negotiation in Engineering Systems (13.95J/15.600J) and Automation, Robotics, and Unemployment (6.903J/STS013J).
Low announced the appointments of Lawrence M. Lidsky PhD '62, professor of nuclear engineering, and Merritt Roe Smith, professor of the history of technology, as co-directors of the Context Program.
The Review Group recommended in its report that context classes -- both those offered by the Context Program and regular courses that embody the "context" idea -- become an integral part of MIT's educational program -- for graduate students and faculty as well as undergraduates.
But the group stopped short of asking that a Context subject be made an Institute-wide requirement for all undergraduates. Undergraduate students are already forced to take a large number of required classes, Low explained at the faculty meeting, and the group did not feel another requirement was warranted. Also, the Institute does not have the resources to teach formal context subjects to 1000 students each year, Low continued. And the diversity of the student body in terms of preparation and goals also works against such a requirement.
Smullin, who teaches 6.903J/STS013J along with Smith, expressed skepticism about the future of Context classes. The idea behind the classes is so open-ended that there are many ways in which faculty can approach these classes, he said. At one extreme, Context instruction can deteriorate into mere "Sunday School teaching" -- banal blandishments to students to think about social and political contexts. At the other, faculty offer a set of varied and specialized subjects that may interest the professors but do not interest the students, judging from low enrollments garnered in the past by Context classes, Smullin said.
Need for minority faculty cited
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that an increasing number of those entering the US workforce will be women and racial minorities -- groups underrepresented among American doctoral students. This has created pressure on US universities to reduce the attrition rate in higher education among these groups, according to Institute Professor Herman Feshbach '42, chair of the Committee on Equal Opportunity.
The committee has worked with Provost John M. Deutch '61 to create a consortium of major research universities that will encourage minority students to continue along educational paths that lead to faculty positions, Feshbach reported to the faculty. Deutch and the committee have been in contact with University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Princeton University, Stanford University, and Yale University about forming such a consortium.
Feshbach said the committee will soon present a plan to involve faculty members in the attempt to increase the number of minority PhD candidates and postdoctoral associates. But he did not provide any details.
Also at Wednesday's meeting, Gray described his annual report to the Corporation. Among the topics he addressed were investigations by an congressional committee into the Industrial Liason Program's dealings with Japanese firms, the Justice Department price-fixing investigation into 58 colleges and universities including MIT, and equal opportunity efforts.