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Input wanted on biology requirement

Are you aware that the Institute is planning to incorporate General Biology (7.01) into the freshman core requirement? What do you think?

In April 1989, the faculty voted to examine the benefits, drawbacks and potential impact of adding a biology requirement to the undergraduate curriculum.

Now it appears that various Institute committees will recommend to the faculty not only that some form of biology should be required, but also that 7.01 be implemented into the freshman core at the expense of other requirements.

What these other requirements should be is causing debate and controversy among members of the faculty and administration. All of us as students must join this debate.

The incorporation of a biology requirement is not seen as arbitrary at all. Most faculty members feel that the importance of biology in the fundamental understanding of science has rapidly increased over the past decade.

Since the freshman core is designed to ensure that MIT graduates bring to their careers an understanding of a "world deeply influenced by science and technology," the exclusion of biology seems, to many, a fundamental oversight.

A popular proposal would eliminate one Science Distribution requirement to compensate for the added biology requirement. The concern over this proposal lies in the fact that for many science and engineering students, many Sci-D subjects are also required by their departmental programs.

Only one Sci-D is exempt from departmental control, and it is precisely this one that the proposal would eliminate. Thus, the freedom enjoyed by all students to choose unrestricted at least one Sci-D would be constricted.

This is particularly poignant for science and engineering student, for whom the time to take extra classes is scarce. Removing the nondepartmental Sci-D would be tantamount to requiring them to count this class as an unrestricted elective. Still, are Sci-Ds even important, anyway?

A competing proposal would reduce the number of Sci-Ds from three to one: The time for one of these would go to 7.01, while the time for the other would be allotted to each department to do with as it sees fit. In addition, the number of HASS-Ds would be decreased from three to two.

An additional issue that all this brings up is the time it would take to complete the freshman core under any of these proposals. While it is true that the current freshman core classes such as Physics I (8.01) and Calculus (18.01) don't have to be taken in one's freshman year, most people usually do.

And most science and engineering departments assume completion for sophomore level classes. The addition of any other core requirements would almost certainly mean for at least some students that some core classes would be taken in their sophomore year. What does this mean for pass/fail?

Biologists would say, though, that taking 7.01 in the middle of one's academic career is often wise: 7.01 is "a class which can be most beneficial with a background in science firmly established."

Any addition to the freshman core necessarily means either a decrease in other requirements or increased pressure at the beginning of one's undergraduate career. Balancing the many issues involved is a dialogue from which students must not be excluded.

Members of the faculty and administration are eagerly seeking students' opinions on whether biology should be added to the core, and if so, how it should be implemented -- alternative proposals will be welcomed. They are committed to making a responsible decision, which can only mean discussion by all those affected.

Proposals will be submitted to the faculty at its April 17 meeting, at which they will be discussed at length. The Undergraduate Association is looking to gather students' opinions so that it can represent them at the meeting and offer any possible alternatives.

A final, binding vote will be taken at the May faculty meeting. This chance for input into such a serious long-term decision cannot be passed up.

Stacy McGeever '93->

UA President->

Jeremy Paul Kirby '92->

UA Vice President->