Japan program should admit non-science students
"Go to Japan!" That is the rally of the MIT Japan Program found in the halls throughout campus.
The staff of the MIT Japan Program, however, has recently decided to exclude a large portion of the student body from the program. Undergraduates majoring in such fields as the humanities, political science, architecture, and urban studies and planning are now ineligible. Graduate students from these departments may still apply, but their chances appear to be diminishing.
Richard J. Samuels PhD '80, the director of the program, has stated that in the future the MIT Japan Program will devote the bulk of its resources into providing internship opportunities in Japan to students in science, engineering and management. Samuels claims that it is more difficult to find placements for students who have concentrated outside these areas. Not impossible, as suggested by the students the program has or will be sending this summer, just more difficult.
There are at least two objections that can be raised against this shift. First, science, engineering and management are already among the most well-endowed areas at MIT and should not be the exclusive recipients of yet another source of funding. (The MIT Japan Program now has a capital endowment of over $2 million.)
Second and more importantly, the decision suggests that only certain exchanges with Japan are worthwhile. Indeed, after listening to the staff of the program speak at an orientation meeting this week, I realized that they see themselves as being at the vanguard of creating a new generation of American technocrats who are "smart" about Japan. However, a wider, more open policy about whom at MIT can benefit from US-Japanese exchanges should be maintained as well as a broader vision of how society as a whole can benefit from these exchanges.
Now that Japan has become in many respects the center of product innovation, it makes every bit of sense to keep abreast of these developments and give young scientists and engineers and opportunity to see them first hand. Yet, this is not the only area that Japan has become a force to reckon with. Japan is now the largest creditor nation on earth and has the third largest defense budget. As the largest donor of overseas aid, it will have an increasing impact on developing countries around the world. Japan's international influence will continue to spread far beyond the technological realm.
The overly technical focus that the MIT Japan Program has chosen is misdirected. The program should actively support all students who are interested in gaining exposure to Japan regardless of the field they have chosen to concentrate in at MIT. This will ensure that in the future there will be a wide mix of people who are "smart" about Japan.
Peter Evans G->