Faculty debate new biology requirements
By Jeremy Hylton
The faculty discussed the possible substitution of a biology requirement for one Science Distribution Requirement at its meeting Wednesday afternoon. In addition, Mehran Kardar PhD '83, associate professor of physics, was named recipient of the Harold E. Edgerton SM '27 award.
President Charles M. Vest endorsed the biology proposal. "I personally believe it would be a strong leadership move to do this," Vest said.
The faculty will vote in May on a proposal that will: add a course in introductory modern microbiology to the Science Core of the General Institute Requirements (GIRs), reduce from three to two the number of Science Distribution Requirements, and create an ad hoc committee to, as the proposal states, "review the scope and balance of the GIRs as well as the Institute calendar and its implications for the academic program."
Thomas J. Greytak '62, professor of physics and chairman of the Committee on the Science Requirement, presented the committee's plan to the faculty. "We thought this was an appropriate and correct way to present biology to our students," he said.
In discussion, the proposal appeared to have broad support from the faculty, winning endorsements from Provost Mark S. Wrighton and Professor Joel Moses PhD '67, dean of engineering, and from the Undergraduate Association.
Opponents to the proposal claimed that an additional core requirement would burden students' already tight schedules as well as departmental programs. The proposal will "take away some of the few degrees of choice left to the engineering student," said Alvin W. Drake '57, professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
Drake said that the course would probably appeal to many students, but "I don't know if this has to be a required class right away." He also cautioned that the committee to review the GIRs would have a difficult task.
Professor Richard O. Hynes PhD '71, head of the biology department, argued for the requirement and presented the biology department's plan to implement the proposal. "This is an intellectually valuable course for our students to have," Hynes said.
The biology requirement would be satisfied by Introduction to Biology (7.01), according to Hynes. One third of the 7.01 curriculum would introduce students to elective material, including medical genetics and physiology. The content of the elective portion of the class would vary from term to term.
Professor Paul L. Penfield Jr. ScD '60 expressed concern about overloading freshmen with GIRs. His concern was echoed after the meeting by UA President Stacy E. McGeever '93 and former UAP Manish Bapna '91. Bapna said, "Where is there the flexibility to explore what discipline [freshmen] are going to study?"
Hynes commented at the meeting that the course would not be designated a freshman course. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a freshman course for all students," he said. Some versions of the course, he also noted, may require students to have credit for chemistry.
Kardar wins Edgerton award
Kardar, who was recently named Class of 1948 Professor of Physics, was honored for his "distinction in teaching, in research, and in service to the MIT community," according to the award citation.
The award was established in 1982 and is intended to honor a member of the junior faculty. A $5000 honorarium accompanies the award, Kardar said.
A condensed matter theorist who works in statistical physics, Kardar was a fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows from 1983 until 1986, when he was made an assistant professor at MIT. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Cambridge University.
"It's certainly a great honor to receive an award named after such a creative individual, and to join the distinguished company of previous winners," Kardar said.
Ira Dyer '49, professor of ocean engineering and head of the award selection committee, said the committee's decision was difficult because they had to choose from an "exceptional crop" of younger faculty.
Several other items were addressed at the meeting. The faculty approved a measure intended to speed proceedings before the Committee on Discipline. The COD may now call on past members to fill a quorum for hearings. The faculty also voted to allow the vice president of the Graduate Student Council to speak at faculty meetings.
Wrighton announced that Professor Civil Engineering Steven R. Lerman '72 is working with the Committee on Academic Computing to develop new academic computing research initiatives. Wrighton said he expected to announce the head of the newly created academic computing section of the Provost's Office within a week.
Wrighton also said that the Committee on Values, headed by Sheila E. Widnall '60, will produce an interim report before the end of the semester. Five senior faculty members are serving on Widnall's committee.