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Faculty oks bio requirement



(By Joanna E. Stone)


The already numerous General Institute Requirements have just been broadened. All MIT undergraduates will soon be required to take Introduction to Biology (7.01), starting with the freshman class entering in 1993.


The faculty overwhelmingly approved the proposal for a new biology requirement at its meeting on May 16. This was the major item on the agenda for the meeting and the final vote did not come down before lengthy discussion and a vote on an amended biology requirement proposal occurred.

Another major item on the faculty meeting agenda was a report of the study panel on policies related to demonstrations.

Professor of Physics Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65 opened discussion on the biology requirement proposal, suggesting to the faculty that they "take the bold move now."

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The resolution that the Committee on Undergraduate Program (CUP) offered to the faculty was stated as follows:

"That one semester of modern biology be added to the Science Core of the General Institute Requirements, effective with the freshman class entering in fall 1993."

The CUP also recommended, "That the name `Science Distribution' be changed to `Restricted Electives in Science and Technology'. That the number of subjects required in Restricted Electives in Science and Technology be reduced from three to two; both of these may be specified by departmental programs, but no more than one may lie inside the department."

The CUP recommended that the modern molecular biology course used to satisfy the biology requirement be labeled 7.01n. This way the subject could come in "several different versions (7.011, 7.012, etc), with each version having a similar core but emphasizing a different aspect or application of biology for students with different backgrounds and interests."

Earle L. Lomon '54, professor of physics, introduced an amendment to the CUP motion. The proposed amendment, which created a great deal of controversy at the meeting, suggested that the biology requirement could be met not only by 7.01, but also by Genetics (7.03) or General Biochemistry (7.05).

"The difference is that students and departments will have some choice," Lomon said. He said that as the original CUP policy is stated, students might think they have to take 7.01 their freshman year. "I think it's important it not be indicated that the subject should be taken early."

Hartley Rogers Jr., professor of mathematics, was the first to speak against the amendment. "The core requirements represent a characteristic feature of MIT," he said.

"In the core we teach 19th-century math, late-19th, early-20th century chemistry. The upperclass departments depend on this and use it," Rogers said.

"7.05 is maybe middle of this century, maybe early," he said, adding, "Sorry Gene", referring to Gene M. Brown, dean of the School of Science, who teaches 7.05.

Rogers said that 7.01 provides a broad knowledge of modern, late-20th century biology and upperclass biology courses such as 7.05 or 7.03 could now change to accommodate this, so that 7.01 could become a prerequisite.

After several more professors made speeches both for and against the requirement and proposed amendment, one professor stood and called for student voice on the proposals. "We speak over and over again about the importance of getting representing views from students." In absence of student voices, he felt it important to point out that the Undergraduate Association referendum on the biology requirement received only a 50-50 vote. He then reiterated his call for student input.

MacVicar noted that there had been interaction with students all along. "50-50 is the best you're going to get in a student referendum," she said.

UA Vice President J. Paul Kirby '92, then stood to answer the call for a student voice. He said there had been some student disagreement concerning the manner of implementation of the biology requirement. But there had not been heated debates on the matter, he said; "Instead there has been quiet calm discussion on which would be preferred."

Wrighton said that he had personally met with UA President Stacey E. McGeever '93 on the matter. "She had assumed the original motion had [already] passed," he said.

Provost Mark S. Wrighton expressed his belief in the importance of a requirement that would give students a general knowledge of biology. He also expressed his concern that students not be overloaded with requirements during their freshman year. "We should find some palpable way to make sure freshmen do not feel they have to take [7.01 their first year]," Wrighton said.

A show of hands vote was taken on the proposed amendment. It was defeated by an approximately two-thirds vote. After more discussion, a voice vote was taken on the original CUP motion. It passed with an overwhelming majority.

According to the motion, the president will appoint an ad hoc committee to review the scope and balance of the General Institute Requirements as well as the Institute calendar and its implications for the academic program.

Demonstrations committee

presents plan

After the CUP motion passed, many faculty members departed from the meeting. John G. Kassakian '65, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, then presented the report of the study panel on policies related to demonstrations.

The report begins by stating: "The freedom to assemble and speak openly is fundamental both to the political health of our democracy and to the intellectual vitality of our university."

The report suggests that when the faculty chair perceives that "a contentious issue appears likely to lead to demonstrations involving conflict and confrontation," the chair should convene an ad hoc committee consisting of students, faculty and administrators.

The report then outlines a five-step plan for the committee to follow: "Be available to consult with involved parties; assist with mediation where possible; review the issues in contention; encourage community-wide discussion of the issues; and, serve as observers during demonstration."

The report stipulates that, "At the conclusion of activities, the ad hoc committee will report its findings to the faculty."

By coincidence, the study panel's recommendations had already been successfully "field tested," noted incoming Faculty Chair J. Kim Vandiver '75, when a sit-in occurred at President Charles M. Vest's office only five days prior. [See story on sit-in in Vest's office, page 19.]

In accordance with the final stipulation of the study panel's recommendations, Vandiver reported the details of the sit-in to the faculty. The lesson learned, according to Vandiver: "There are some very bright, concerned students; they're not just trouble makers as is sometimes thought."

Other issues discussed

at faculty meeting

Vest began the faculty meeting by expressing his gratitude to faculty members for his Inaugural celebration. It was "so meaningful to Becky and me," he said.

Before addressing the biology requirement recommendation, the faculty unanimously voted to approve the members of the faculty committees and officers of the faculty.

The faculty then passed a resolution on the death of Professor John F. Elliot '49, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. A moment of silence was held for the highly praised late professor.

Next on the agenda, the Killian Award Committee presented its award to Institute Professor Noam A. Chomsky. "During his years at MIT, he has been the most recognized leader in language philosophy," said Uttam L. Rajbhandary, professor of biology, who presented the award to Chomsky. Rajbhandary also noted that "it is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak their views."

In his acceptance of the award, Chomsky remarked that he is completing his 35th year of teaching. "I've always been thankful for the opportunity to be part of an intellectual environment. I'm glad I have a few years left to achieve," he said.

A motion to elect members of the faculty ex officiis for the 1991-92 year was passed. Vest then introduced the CUP motion for a biology requirement, which was followed by the demonstrations panel report.

In addition, Vest spoke very briefly on the issue of indirect costs. And the Commencement Committee made its report and invited faculty members to vote on the degree list.