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Faculty OKs Minors, Discuss New Degree

By Brian Rosenberg
Editor in Chief

The faculty formally authorized the creation of minors in subjects other than the humanities and social sciences at their meeting Wednesday. The faculty also discussed two proposals: the first would create a Master of Engineering degree in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, while the second suggested an expanded Institute calendar.

The motion to allow undergraduates to minor in any academic field was unopposed in a voice vote by the approximately 70 faculty at the meeting. The approved proposal does not create any specific minor programs -- it merely allows departments to offer such programs if they wish.

"It's about time that we had minors in the sciences," said Undergraduate Association President Shally Bansal '93. "I'll be interested to see which departments actually follow through and create a program," she added.

Dean of the School of Engineering Joel Moses PhD '67 formally presented the faculty with a motion to create a five-year Master of Engineering degree in EECS. The new degree would become the primary degree for students wishing to become practicing engineers, according to Paul L. Penfield Jr. ScD '60, head of the EECS department.

The proposal also includes a provision directing that the MEng program will be reviewed in 1998 by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, the Committee on the Graduate School Program, and the School of Engineering.

This provision was included as part of a compromise by the proposal's authors to address the concerns of many faculty members about the program's content. Of particular concern is the inclusion of courses dealing with issues related to the practice of engineering, including the effects of technology on society and ethics in the workplace.

Several faculty questioned this aspect of the program during discussion of the proposal. Penfield responded by saying the department has "not reached a definite conclusion on where to insert the professional material, but we are looking at several options."

If the new degree is approved when the faculty vote on it at their December meeting, approximately 60 seniors will enter the program as graduate students next fall.

Requirements for the MEng degree would include the General Institute Requirements, making the degree available only to MIT undergraduates.

Penfield focused on three reasons why the EECS department feels the MEng degree is necessary. The first was that "the masters level of education is needed for the practice of engineering."

He also cited the increasing complexity of the fields of electrical engineering and computer science. "We've tried to fit more and more material into four years, but it's not enough time," he said.

Third, Penfield emphasized the lack of space for professional material in the current program.

Calendar proposal presented

Robert J. Silbey, chair of the Committee on the Institute Calendar and head of the chemistry department, presented the committee's preliminary recommendations for a new academic calendar. Silbey said the recommendations would be finalized within a few weeks.

Silbey said the committee surveyed a variety of faculty to explore the weaknesses in the current calendar. He said most faculty cited variations in the length of the terms, both between the fall and spring terms and between succeeding years, as a fault. Almost everyone who spoke to the committee expressed a desire for more class days, he added.

In response to these concerns, Silbey said the committee designed a calendar very similar to the one currently in place, but beginning one week earlier in the fall. Though this has the disadvantage of beginning the semester before Labor Day, "extra days have to come from somewhere," he said.

The proposal would retain IAP in its current form, but the committee recommended that the "academic experience of IAP be broadened," particularly to include the offering of required courses, Silbey said. He emphasized that the committee did not endorse offering required classes only during IAP, however.

Travis R. Merritt, associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs, objected, saying it would create "difficulty in getting freshmen and faculty involved in Residence/ Orientation Week to participate."