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Add biology, scrap Science Distribution

Add biology, scrap

Science Distribution

Next week, members of the faculty will vote on a proposal to implement a biology requirement into the General Institute Requirements. There are obvious benefits of having all MIT students graduate with a basic knowledge of biology, but the Institute should not accomplish this by adding another requirement to an already limiting degree program. The faculty should make room for biology by scrapping the Science Distribution requirement.

The suggested policy would replace one of the three SD requirements with General Biology (7.01), leaving students with only two SDs to take. But why would students then need to fulfill a science distribution requirement? They would, through GIRs, be taking two semesters of physics, two semesters of calculus, one semester of chemistry, and one semester of biology -- a veritable smorgasbord of the basic sciences.

In fact, this question has already been answered for an overwhelming majority of undergraduates. Currently, students in almost every major department can satisfy two of the three SD requirements through their departmental program. That leaves one choice. With the removal of one of the three SDs, the requirement would be effectively eliminated for these students.

Realizing this, the Science-Engineering Working Group, the originator of the biology requirement idea, stated in its 1989 report that "it is preferable (though we would not at this point insist) that no more than one science distribution subject out of the two remaining [after the addition of biology to the GIR] be a departmental requirement." We would at this point insist that SEWG's recommendation be ignored, because it would effectively add one more requirement for those students mentioned above. Not only would they now have to take biology, but their one non-departmental SD would remain.

With the limits now placed on the total number of units freshmen can take, having to take 7.01 would leave students with only two 12-unit classes and one 9-unit class to take during their freshman year. Of course, they have the option of taking science core classes later on in their undergraduate careers, but it seems likely that students would continue to try to complete these classes freshman year. At the end of the first year, after this limited opportunity to explore other majors, freshmen would be expected to choose a major. This all seems exceedingly unfair.

The Institute's desire to have its students well-versed in a variety of subjects is admirable. But it should not be achieved by an increase in the number of Institute requirements. It is preferable to inspire students to take classes that satisfy their curiosity and desire to learn, rather than classes that satisfy requirements.