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Course VI considers Adopting Five-year Master's of Engineering Program

By Jeremy Hylton
Managing Editor
____The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science may replace its current undergraduate program with a five-year Master's of Engineering program. The department first considered the five-year plan in 1989, but reached a critical milestone when a program was discussed at a late November EECS faculty meeting.

At that meeting, Professor Paul L. Penfield ScD '60, head of the department, asked each faculty member to write him a letter indicating whether they supported the program discussed and noting any problems they had with it. Penfield and the Ad Hoc Curriculum Committee, headed by Campbell L. Searle SM '51, professor of electrical engineering, are currently discussing the criticism provided by the letters.

The department hopes to print information about the change in the next MIT Bulletin, according to Penfield. The information would say the department is considering a five-year program that may become the standard for the Class of 1996. If approved, the program would also be open to a small number of current students.

"The seven people on the committee have read all 84 letters and are giving very careful consideration to all of the letters," said Searle. He described the letters' suggestions as constructive and useful.

Most of the faculty present at the November meeting supported the move to a five-year program, though many disagreed with the specifics of the program presented, according to Searle. "What I heard were two or three very negative comments. The rest were positive," he said.

`Depth area strings'

The program, authored by Searle, Ford Professor of Engineering William M. Siebert '46, and John V. Guttag, professor of computer science and engineering, consists of an 18-course curriculum beyond the General Institute Requirements. The common core will remain largely the same, but will be supplemented by three "depth area strings."

The strings are three-course sequences for each section of the department. Each sequence has an introductory class that is a prerequisite for all the other classes in the sequence.

The department will also require two classes that will count as part of the GIRs. The common core would also include Differential Equations (18.03) and a probability class: either Probabilistic Systems Analysis (6.041) or a to-be-created class aimed at computer science majors (6.042).

"By extending the program to five years, you get not only greater breadth and depth, but greater flexibility for students and faculty," Siebert said. The proposal adds seven classes to the department's requirements.

The proposed program would also guarantee that all students in advanced courses have a common background, Guttag explained. This would eliminate the need for instructors to review more basic knowledge necessary to their classes. "I think this sort of thing will make a big difference in the long run. If the content of the subjects doesn't change, we will have missed a great opportunity," he said.

The program was designed to have little impact on the doctoral program. Like the VI-A internships, the M. Eng. program would be separate from the doctoral track. The five-year program would also be open to students with undergraduate degrees from other universities.

The M. Eng. degree would be the principle degree offered by the department, but graduates would also receive bachelor's degrees. Typically all students in good academic standing would be accepted into the M. Eng. program at the end of their junior years. A bachelor's degree will also be offered for students who are not eligible for or cannot afford the expanded program.

Although the program admits nearly all students, the department plans to financially restrict enrollment. Financial support for the fifth year would be limited to about 75 students and be distributed on a merit basis. Students would be accepted into the program without guaranteed financial support.

"Support is merit-based, which I think we need to maintain quality," Searle said. "The system is going to be support limited."

With this constraint in mind, Searle estimated the program would increase graduate student enrollment by 100 students. Financial support would come from teaching and research assistantships paid for by tuition from the new students, an expansion of the VI-A internship program, and other industrial liaisons.

Initially financial aid will support only a few students. Searle projected that 5 juniors, 35 sophomores, and 60 freshmen could participate in the first year.

Despite the attempt to keep the caliber of students high, some faculty members believe the program admits too many students normally refused. "We will be dealing with a diluted student body," said Professor of Electrical Engineering Stephen D. Senturia PhD '66.

Many of the best students will be admitted to the doctoral programs or go to other universities, he said. "The lower students will all show up on the doorsteps," said Clifton G. Fonstad Jr. PhD '70, professor of electrical engineering.

The most vigorously opposed part of the program was the relaxation of master's thesis requirements. Professor of Electrical Engineering Mike Athans said, "I am very bothered that we're not going to see as much depth in the master's thesis." His sentiments were echoed by Professor Jeffrey H. Lang '75, associate director of the Lab for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems. He described the proposal as "the scuttling of the master's thesis."