Inaccurate Reporting in The Tech
The Oct. 16 article in The Tech ["Committee Sets Out to Revamp Freshman Curriculum by 2001"] on the new Educational Design Project contains numerous inaccuracies and misrepresents my perspectives on the MIT undergraduate curriculum. I'm writing to set the record straight.
I spoke with The Tech reporter who wrote the article for a short time last week about the broad issues confronting our community as we move toward an even better freshman program. I explained to her that the Committee on the Undergraduate Program was establishing the EDP committee to propose new approaches to the freshman year. The EDP committee has two co-chairs, Allen Professor of Media Arts and Sciences Stephen A. Benton and me.
By appointing me as a co-chair (in my dual capacity as a professor and as dean for undergraduate curriculum), Professor Suzanne Flynn (chair of the CUP) has taken a bold step toward establishing a new working relationship between the central administration and this important faculty committee. Hopefully, the collaboration will help us make real progress toward refinement of the common educational programs we offer to all students, regardless of their choice of majors.
However, we have made no progress toward that goal as of yet because the EDP committee has not met. In fact, as of this writing, the membership of the committee has not been finalized. I certainly did not tell the reporter otherwise, and why she wrote that "many ideas have come to the fore in meetings of the new subcommittee" is a complete mystery to me.
In the course of our conversation, I shared with the reporter some of the concerns I have heard from faculty and students over the years regarding the freshman year. Most of these are not surprising and were articulated nicely in the recent report of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning. Although I was repeating comments made by others in other venues, these quotes were attributed to me in the article.
For the most part, they do not reflect my opinions. In fact, I strongly disagree with many of them. For the record, I never said that "the main objective of [this process] is to determine if the General Institute Requirements are the best way to educate students." The task force did recommend a review of the GIRs, but that is not part of the charge to the EDP committee. I did not say - and frankly do not believe - that pace and pressure is the most important problem with the freshman year. Instead, I said that some faculty lament the pace and pressure of the freshman year. I did not point to Physics I (8.01) as a "prime example" of what is wrong with the freshman year. I said that the subjects taken by most students in the freshman year are necessarily basic and not designed to show students the cutting-edge research done by professionals in various fields; I used 8.01 as an example of that.
In fact, I made absolutely no disparaging comments about the subject matter in the Science Core or the GIRs in general. My point was that we could - and should - do more to help freshmen make an informed decision about their choice of major, and that we could - and should - develop a program that engages students more in the excitement of MIT research.
The trouble with inaccurate reporting is that it precipitates misinformed responses. I have spent the last few days trying to reassure my colleagues on the EDP that I was not trying to undercut the committee process by grandstanding in The Tech. Just yesterday, I read the Oct. 20 Tech editorial in which my "proposed changes" to the freshman year were dismissed as detrimental to the quality of the MIT undergraduate education. The fact is that I have proposed no changes - and neither has the committee that has not yet met! I'm happy to see that The Tech editorial staff does not want to see the freshman year "dumbed-down;" it is preposterous to imply that I think otherwise.
No matter what I think, there will be no changes to the MIT undergraduate curriculum until the MIT faculty as a whole decides to make those changes. Like any faculty member, I have my opinions. It's too bad they were so misrepresented in The Tech. The other members of the EDP committee will have their own opinions. I look forward to the deliberations during which we can meld these opinions with input from throughout the MIT community into a recommendation to the entire faculty.
Finally, as an ex-staffer of a student newspaper, I am appalled by the lack of fact checking by The Tech staff. It's time for The Tech to establish a more responsible approach.
Kip V. Hodges PhD '82
Co-Chair, Educational Design Project Committee