UAC, faculty try to retain psychology
By Karen Kaplan
Members of the faculty and student body are working on proposals to create a new program in psychology within the School of Humanities and Social Science. The proposals are likely to suggest hiring Associate Professor of Psychology Jeremy M. Wolfe PhD '81, who was denied tenure by the Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology in the spring, as the program's administrator.
The proposals originated in the steering committee of the current psychology program, which has no official faculty. One of the main goals of the proposals is to make the psychology program "official enough so that I could be hired in it," said Wolfe, who added that he would be interested in leading a new program in psychology.
According to Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Susan Carey, a key member of the steering committee, the purpose of the proposals is broader than just trying to retain Wolfe.
Carey is planning to lobby both President Charles M. Vest and Provost Mark S. Wrighton about creating a permanent psychology program in the near future. She said it is important that a proposal have widespread support throughout the Institute.
Wolfe and various students have pointed out that Vest and Wrighton "have given long-winded speeches about how the human element in science is vital in education."
"To the extent that they believe their rhetoric, they should support a psychology program," Wolfe said.
Many people involved with the current program are concerned that if Wolfe leaves MIT, the program will disappear, along with his popular Introduction to Psychology (9.00) class, the foundation of the program.
"I think what Susan [Carey] is trying to do is firm [the program] up, so that if and when I leave, the program will not disappear with me," Wolfe said. "Sue's proposal is aimed at making sure it continues to exist."
Students strongly support program
A resolution, approved by the Undergraduate Association Council on Nov. 18, calls on the MIT administration to create a new, stronger program in psychology.
The resolution also recommends hiring Wolfe to administer the program. J. Paul Kirby '92, who co-sponsored the resolution, said it was largely based on proposals "tossed around" by various faculty members in Courses 9 and 21.
Rebecca D. Kaplan '92 has been a major force in the fight to strengthen the current Program in Psychology, which is in the School of Humanities and Social Science.
She has organized psyche@athena, an account for students' comments and suggestions on a psychology program at MIT, and has collected signatures for petitions to keep both psychology and Wolfe at MIT. "Students are in favor of a psychology program in HASS and of keeping Wolfe," Kaplan said.
According to Kaplan, the elimination of psychology would be harmful to MIT because "psychology is fundamental to the understanding of other fields, especially science and engineering."
Wolfe also emphasized the importance of a permanent program in psychology. "I am fond of the fields of cognitive science and brain science, but they are not the same thing as psychology, which deals more with the human element," he said.
"A major university needs psychology represented, at least at the undergraduate level," he added.
Idea has not been
discussed by HASS
"At this moment, [the idea of creating a new program in psychology] hasn't been discussed," Acting Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science Philip S. Khoury said.
There has been "no discussion of hiring Jeremy Wolfe," Khoury added. The faculty, however, has been talking about the "future of psychology," he said.
Khoury does not believe that a psychology program is essential to the function of the Institute. "If we were a full university, we'd have humanistic psychology," he said. "The decision was made in the not too distant past that psychology ought to merge more with brain sciences."
Khoury pointed out that this wouldn't be the first occasion where MIT wouldn't have a department that "schools like Harvard, Princeton and Stanford" have. "We also don't have departments or programs in sociology or religion," he said.
In refuting the argument for an explicit psychology program, Khoury made an analogy between psychology and women's studies courses. "People were hired in the literature, music and anthropology programs, and they teach in the area of women's studies, but there is no [department] in women's studies," he said.
He thought that even without an official program in psychology, students would still be allowed to minor or concentrate in psychology.
Even so, Khoury admitted that without an official program, Wolfe could not be hired by MIT. "We can't create a position from nothing," he said. "There is no program that makes appointments in psychology."