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Committee Releases Student Life Report

Wan Yusof Wan Morshidi -- The Tech
R. John Hansman PhD '82

By Jennifer Chung

Earlier this week, the Student Advisory Committee to the Task Force on Student Life and Learning released preliminary findings to help the Task Force improve the quality of student life at MIT.

The report discussed student opinions and theories on a wide range of issues, including residential life, academics, student activities, and the non-academic role of faculty members.

The report was actually completed in May, but the committee chose for scheduling reasons to withhold its findings until the beginning of this term.

The committee held workshops during Independent Activities Period last year to gauge student opinions about a variety of subjects related to student life and learning. It is "based on community input and much internal committee discussion, deliberation, and analysis," wrote committee member Luis Ortiz G in a letter to the Co-Chairs of the Task Force in May.

Team defines "Educational Triad"

One of the ideas expounded in the report is that of an "Educational Triad" consisting of academics, research, and community. According to the report, each of the three nodes in this triad develops and encourages the others even as "each component of the triad is a distinct area of a student's education"- research helps integrate theoretical science with engineering, community enables students to understand independence and adult life, and academics has always been the core of education.

Committee advocates activities

The committee particularly noted students' living conditions and extracurricular activities such as athletics, music groups, and government. It found that students tend to form close relationships with the members of their living groups, inhibiting diversity because living groups tend to be homogenized.

The introduction of extracurricular groups introduces diversity into a student's normal social circle, the report said. When student activities are impeded through such problems as too much classwork or not enough funding, however, students become limited in their social interactions and experience less diversity. The committee pointed out that "MIT ranks at approximately 25 percent of its peer institutions in the level of funding granted to student activities."

"The Task Force agrees with the Student Advisory Group that we need to find ways strengthen the interactions between the nodes" of the triad,said Professor R. John Hansman PhD '82, co-chair of the task force.

Not enough variety' at MIT

Several interesting points were raised in the report regarding the humanities. One student complaint noted in the report was the "little variety in the choices of MIT majors and minors." Despite the claim that many of MIT's less technical departments "are ranked among the top departments in the world", students inevitably focus in the sciences and engineering, the report said.

In addition, the report suggests that "MIT should have a law school or department specializing in technological issues." Given the rapid rate of fusion between technology and society, humanities departments that are more developed might be beneficial in the education of the MIT student, the report said.

"As the world becomes more complex and interrelated, it is no longer sufficient to practice your profession in a vacuum," Hansman said.

However, "we don't want to seeMITturn into another Harvard," said Jeremy D. Sher, '99, one of two undergraduate representatives on the Task Force.

Report outlines past changes

The report began with an introduction reviewing MIT's past educational philosophies. The Institute progressively extended the focus from technical education to a more general one as engineers began taking on "an increasingly important role in society as a whole."

In 1949, the Committee on Educational Survey, the predecessor to the Task Force, determined that "the objective of education is to develop in students a set of qualities useful for a well-rounded life", and thus recommended the creation of a School of Science and a core humanities curriculum, to broaden the education of MIT students.

Despite the broader focus on less technical topics, "it seems as if MIT has not been able to keep pace with the changing and expanding needs of society," the report said. Thus, the Task Force was formed to look into the role of MIT graduates in society. Specifically, the report said that it appears MIT's education does not adequately provide training for communication, teamwork, and analytical ability.

Now that the committee has compiled student opinion in writing the report, it will discuss strategies for addressing student concerns with the Task Force. A subsequent report outlining solutions and recommendations regarding these concerns is tentatively scheduled to be released in the summer.