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Faculty Initiate Changes to Phase I Writing Requirement

By Zareena Hussain

Students who fail the Freshman Essay Evaluation with subject recommended will now be required to take an introductory writing course in their freshman year beginning this fall.

The faculty committee charged with considering changes to how writing and communication are taught at MIT announced this and other recommendations at Wednesday’s faculty meeting.

The committee also made the long-term recommendation that students be required to take at least one “communications-intensive” course each year of their undergraduate careers. These courses would include those taught in the school of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, as well as science subjects with writing assignments attached, including writing practica and lab courses.

“What we had to do was to embed [writing and communication] right into the existing curriculum,” said Professor of Biology Gene M. Brown in presenting the findings. The new requirement, for freshmen who fail the FEE with “subject recommended”, was made in order to prepare for this long-term recommendation.

This new requirement involving the FEE has been licensed as a two-year experiment by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program through the recommendations of the CUP subcommittee charged with overseeing and evaluating changes to the Institute’s writing and communications requirement.

The subcommittee, chaired by Brown and Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Langley C. Keyes, Jr. was formed following a faculty motion in April 1997 that called on the faculty to “direct the [CUP] to conduct a series of experiments and pilot programs to inform the final design of a new communication requirement.”

Because the faculty has already approved the licensing of experiments by the CUP, this new requirement will not have to come before a full faculty vote until the experiment is completed.

“Under that experimental power, [the requirement] is in effect,” Brown said.

Twenty percent of frosh affected

Incoming freshmen who do not pass Phase I of the writing requirement, either through college credit or a receipt of a 5 on the Advanced Placement Test in Language and Composition, are required to take the FEE. Of those taking the FEE in 1997, 17 percent passed Phase 1 through the FEE, 61 percent did not pass, and 22 percent did not pass and additionally fell under the category of “subject recommended”. Similar distributions held in 1998. The designation “subject recommended” means that a student is urged but not required to take an introductory writing subject to pass Phase I.

A two-year experiment

The recommendations came from findings which show that, of those students who fail the FEE with subject recommended, only 50 percent actually take a writing course in their freshman years, with an equal distribution of the remaining students taking an introductory writing course in their sophomore, junior, or senior years, and some not taking one at all.

This recommendation also comes on the heels of two years of improvements to the course offerings that focus on writing at the Institute.

According to Brown, there are currently about 300 students enrolled over 24 pilot courses, one in each major, that can be labeled “communications-intensive.” Examples include writing practica attached to engineering courses as well as the biology project lab. These pilot projects took place under the umbrella of experiments licensed by the CUP. A $200,000 grant awarded by the National Science Foundation in 1997 helped fund many of these programs.

The motion passed in 1997 commits the faculty to creating a new undergraduate communication requirement by 2000. In December of 1999, the CUP subcommittee will make its report to the CUP. The CUP will then deliberate and bring a motion before the full faculty.