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HASS Courses Are Not 'Bull Sessions'

HASS Courses Are Not Bull Sessions'

Lest my valued colleagues who teach Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences subjects conclude that I regard them as a pack of fools, I must correct the caricature of my views in last Friday's feature piece about me ["Merritt Reflects on a Decade in Dean's Office," Sept. 20], particularly under the subhead "Nostalgia for the humanities core."

For one thing, I would never characterize "most classes" in humanities, social sciences, and the arts as "little more than glorified bull sessions." My point was simply that, because many HASS subjects are relatively light on sustained accountability (via exams, quizzes, and other graded exercises) in comparison with their counterparts in scientific and technical fields, many MIT students are less likely to pursue them rigorously. Thus the reference to "playing hardball in a hardball league."

For another thing, I do not imagine that the long-departed unified humanities "core" subjects of the 1960s reflected a better sense of "systematic fields of study" than do the various HASS-Distribution subjects of today - only that there was some advantage then in having freshmen throughout the residential system reading and discussing the same humanistic texts at the same time, just as they focused in common on their assignments in calculus, physics, and chemistry.

Travis R. Merritt

Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs