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Writing Requirement Demands Student Input

An MIT workload makes for a rarefied Institute. Students tend to become isolated from events outside the Infinite Corridor. There simply isn't much time for newspapers, magazines, or television.

In much the same way, the Institute is cloistered. Students don't pay much more attention to the events inside the Institute than they do to the politics of the outside world. News is lost in the buzz of tooling pencils. Many discussions of import to the student body just don't reach student ears.

Such is the case with the Writing Requirement. A paper in the January/February issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter called for "a revision of the current writing system" modeled on the current "Writing Initiative," a program in which six-unit writing practica are attached to regular engineering subjects.

This paper was written by the faculty attached to the Writing Requirement. Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Kip V. Hodges is the chair of the Committee on the Writing Requirement. Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Associate Dean Leslie C. Perelman is the associate dean in charge of the writing requirement. Professor of Science and Writing Alan P. Lightman is head of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies.

The paper described a writing program that was failing. Only 41 percent of interviewed MIT students thought that their writing had improved significantly. This compared to 71 percent of a comparison group at other schools.

Worse, writing seems to be completely irrelevant as far as academics at MIT are concerned. The study quoted by the paper found no correlation between a student's GPA and writing ability, as shown in Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences distribution courses.

It is disturbing that such reports of failure do not interest MIT students. It is alarming that plans for change in requirements aren't noticed.

It might not be so surprising if administration here at MIT didn't seem so willing not to include students in important deliberations. But as things stand, there is no reason that students shouldn't make there voices heard.

There is no reason that faculty thought on issues like the Writing Requirement shouldn't be presented to the student body.

Matthew J. Herper '99