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Task Force Committee Holds First Open Forum

By Cristin Gonzlez
Technology Director

Only a few students showed up yesterday to an open forum held by the student advisory committee entitled, "Bridges to the 21st Century: Students and the Task Force." The forum was designed to collect student input regarding the problems the student body perceives in the Institute.

The student advisory committee is then to report this information to the presidential task force onstudent life and learning, started by President Charles M.Vest last spring. The task force aims to evaluate and guide MIT's educational mission as the Institute approaches the next century.

The meeting started off with a presentation by task force co-chairs Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics R. John Hansman Jr. PhD '82 and Professor of Chemistry Robert J. Silbey. In it, they emphasized the goals of the task force and the steps they will follow to get there.

As a starting point, the task force is actively looking for student input. However, as they explained, that goal is not always an easy one to achieve. "A lot of people feel there's something special about MIT. But when you ask them what it is, it gets hard," Hansman said.

An activity to gather opinion followed the presentation. Students were asked first to write the things they disliked most about MIT on Post-It notes, followed by the things they liked best. A wide variety of responses followed.

"The goal is to get as much information as possible, to generate as many ideas as possible for the task force," said Anthony J. Ives G, a member of the student advisory committee.

Concerns about rush discussed

There were two main topics that stood out from the students' lists of negative things about the Institute. The first was the hectic nature of Residence and Orientation Week, followed by curriculum issues, which brought forth some problems such as the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences requirement and the lack of variety in HASS-Distribution courses.

There were, however, many other positive points brought up, including resources such as the Office of Career Services, the Safe Ride program, and Athena.

"It seems like people are generally happy with what's offered to them," said Judy G. Su '98, one of the undergraduate students not on the committee attending the meeting.

The meeting ended with a short discussion on the two main topics. The students discussed rush at some length, debating whether it might be better to postpone rush for later in the term, housing all freshmen initially in dormitories. This idea, however, was partially dismissed when confronted with the reality that MIT depends on fraternities and independent living groups to house a sizable portion of its student body.

In terms of curriculum issues, students discussed the importance, or lack thereof, of the different Institute requirements. The final consensus seemed to be that, although the general idea behind them was good, many of them could be greatly improved upon, particularly the HASSand HASS-D requirements.

Students felt that HASS-D courses were often boring. The idea of a possible foreign language requirement was discussed but not with much positive input. Rather, students seemed to agree that courses that would improve their personal skills, like a possible oral communication class, might prove more useful than most of the HASS-D courses offered.

Forum turnout disappointing

Overall, the forum "was successful in gathering information, but it wasn't all that successful in gathering input since there weren't that many people that weren't on the committee. The intention was good, but it could've been better had more people come," Su said.

"Iwas somewhat disappointed by the turnout," said Ernest A. Cuni '98, the only undergraduate representative on the task force itself and a member of the student advisory committee. Cuni attributed the low turnout to student apathy.

"Ithink the main point of this was to get the issues out there. We got a breadth of issues. In the future, our events will center on discussing, building consensus," Cuni said.

Both the task force and the student advisory committee will be putting out preliminary reports at the end of this year with their findings. The final reports should follow by the end of the 1997-98 academic year.

After today's forum, the committee "intends to be be much more proactive," making the soliciting of student opinions easier, Cuni said. Future activities may include holding forums in dormitories.