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CFYP proposals criticized at forum

By Prabhat Mehta

The proposed elimination of second-term freshman pass/no-credit grading came under fire at the first in a series of educational reform forums. The forum, held at East Campus on Wednesday evening, invited students to hear and question representatives of the two major education reform committees -- the Committee on the First-Year Program and the Science/Engineering Working Group.

Professor Kenneth R. Manning, chairman of CFYP, responded to often intense criticism concerning the second-term pass/no-credit elimination proposal. Most of the students who questioned CFYP's proposal did not feel satisfied with the justifications given by the committee in favor of elimination.

The CFYP proposed that second-term pass/no-credit be replaced by a system under which students would be allowed to take one credit/no-credit subject per term beginning in the second term of the freshman year.

Several students indicated that if it were not for pass/no-credit in the second semester of the freshman year, they would have probably left MIT. These students argued that second-term pass/no-credit provides a "second chance" for students who have trouble managing classwork with all other aspects of the larger adjustment problem. This is particularly true in the second term, they argued, because students who come to MIT often "coast" through the first term on their high school training, but once these people hit courses like Physics II (8.02) in the second term, they "fall flat on their faces."

Manning responded to this reasoning by criticizing the emphasis MIT students place on grades. If grades were dealt with in the second term, he argued, "We could counsel around them." This reasoning follows the CFYP line that anxiety about grades develops in the second term and that pass/no-credit elimination would allow students to deal more effectively with their own grades.

Manning also felt that many students take advantage of pass/no credit by "overloading" and thus sacrificing performance in important foundational classes. "I don't think that pass/fail should be meant to mask poor performance," he said.

Charles Whetsel '89 challenged this notion, stating his belief that second term pass/no-credit is a time for "social adjustment," as well as for continued academic adjustment. Citing his experience of "punting problem sets to go to the MFA," Whetsel claimed that classes are only part of the educational process at MIT.

Sarita Gandhi '90 called the CFYP's reasoning that a student only needs one term for academic adjustment "laughable." The faculty must look at its own problems in educating students first, according to Gandhi. She accused the administration of once again "putting the burden on the students," instead of addressing its own problems in advising, teaching and counseling.

Gandhi felt that the administration should present students with more options, instead of restricting their freedom even further. One example she mentioned, which had been discussed by other students, was to set a credit limit for second-term pass/no-credit. Students taking more than a certain number of units of credit would have to be on grades under such a policy. Proponents of such a policy argued that it would solve the overloading problem while still giving those students struggling academically extra time to adjust.

Anne Louit '90 voiced a similar complaint, describing second term pass/no-credit as "the last catch-all" for the administration's and faculty's problems. Without it, she believes, the advising, teaching and counseling problems would be left unaddressed.

Manning agreed that it would be necessary to deal with problems concerning MIT administration and faculty, but he reiterated his belief that elimination of second term pass/no-credit would allow for more flexibility in the undergraduate program and eliminate abuses in the current system.

Manuel Rodriguez '89 criticized the CFYP's proposal that second term pass/no credit be replaced by the option of taking one credit/no credit class per term after the first term. These credit/no credit classes should be treated as seven "bullets," which could be used at any time and in any amount in a given term, according to Rodriguez.

Professor A. P. French explained the Science/Engineering Working Group's report and took questions concerning the group's proposed introduction of a two-term biology-chemistry-materials core sequence. "It would be a crime," he said, for MIT students to graduate without any exposure to modern biology.

French admitted that the proposal did not have many specifics worked out with regards to how the new term of mandatory core and a reduction in the Science Distribution requirement from three subjects to two would change the curriculum and graduation requirements.

Students generally agreed that study of modern biology has become increasingly important. However, some students questioned the need for another core requirement.

The new two-term core, if approved, would be implemented gradually, French said. A core science committee would monitor the effectiveness of the new sequence and prevent it from losing its objectives, he added.