Class of 1997 Will Face Biology RequirementBy Eva Moy
____The addition of a biology requirement to the core curriculum received overwhelming approval from the faculty last year after much debate among students, teachers and administrators. The Class of 1997 will be the first affected by the new requirement.>
The requirement would be satisfied by Introduction to Biology (7.01). The course would be a broad-based introductory class and not necessarily engineering-based, said Thomas J. Greytak '62, chairman of the Committee on the Science Requirement (CSR).
The CSR was formed in 1989 to study Institute requirements under the supervision of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program. The CUP recommended two other changes, both of which were approved.
The CUP suggested a change from the name "Science Distribution" to "Restricted Electives in Science and Technology" (REST). They also recommended that the number of subjects required in REST be reduced from three to two. Both may be specified by departmental programs, but no more than one may lie inside the department.
The committee also proposed to establish an ad hoc committee to further investigate the scope and content of the General Institute Requirements (GIRs) and the Institute calendar. Greytak said the committee saw the Independent Activities Period "keeping [itself] as a block of the time" during which intensive "crash courses" could be given for biology credit.
New version of biology
The CUP also recommended that the course 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."
About two-thirds of the semester would be spent covering the basics, and the remaining third would be devoted to different "flavors of biology," including environmental biology, human biology, gene splicing, medical genetics, physiology, neurobiology, development and biotechnology, Greytak said. The content of the elective portion of the class would vary from term to term.
According to Professor Richard O. Hynes PhD '71, former head of the biology department, the biology requirement is "a good idea," and the biology department is "very willing to do it and do it well." Hynes said the addition of biology would be very beneficial to MIT's curriculum. To support this view, he said that biologists provide another perspective on science. He added that modern biology has affected the lives of many people, and will continue to do so in the future.
Provost Mark S. Wrighton expressed his belief in the importance of a requirement that would give students a general knowledge of biology, but was concerned that freshmen might 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.
President Charles M. Vest endorsed the biology proposal. "I personally believe it would be a strong leadership move to do this," Vest said.
Tight schedules a concern
Opponents of the proposal claimed that an additional core requirement would burden students' already tight schedules as well as departmental programs.
"This is particularly critical for engineering students in highly structured professional or pre-professional programs who already have quite limited freedom and many diverse and important objectives to be realized," William M. Siebert '46, Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science said in an article published in the Faculty Newsletter.
"Where is there the flexibility to explore what discipline [freshmen] are going to study?" said former Undergraduate Association President Manish Bapna '91.
The chemical engineering department also objected to the CUP's proposal, arguing that their undergraduates must also take General Biochemistry (7.05).
Earle L. Lomon '54, professor of physics, introduced a controversial amendment to the CUP motion which 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.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be a freshman course for all students," Hynes said. Some versions of the course, he also noted, may require students to have credit for chemistry.