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Preserving the HASS System

The HASS Overview Committee, in its review of the HASS program, has offered a new guiding principle for the HASS system. The HOC proposes that “HASS offerings are meant to complement science and engineering at MIT and to emphasize other modes of discourse.” The faculty would be well-served to consider this proposition in making changes to the HASS requirement.

One worrisome proposal recommends eliminating certain category restrictions for the HASS Distribution curriculum. Undergraduates must currently take three HASS-D subjects -- one from categories 1,2, or 3; one from categories 4 or 5, and one from any remaining category. The HOC recommends changing this system to require students to take three subjects from any three different categories.

The Tech believes this proposal should be rejected. The initial justification for requiring students to select a course from Categories 4 or 5 (Social and Historical Studies, respectively) was that MIT students were disinclined to select courses from these areas. We believe that is still the case. Studies of history or political science are important parts of a well-rounded education, and MIT students must gain an appreciation of these subjects in order to be effective leaders in the future.

A second source of controversy is the proposal to strip Introduction to Psychology (9.00) and several economics courses of their HASS status. A review of the principles of the HASS program reveals these changes are justified.

The courses under attack do not “emphasize other methods and modes of discourse” unique from science and engineering. 9.00 is offered by a department of the School of Science, and some economics courses are heavily dependent on math. How these courses offer an alternate mode of discourse from science and engineering is unclear.

The HASS system is also committed to improving oral and written communication, and the courses under attack do not meet this goal. 9.00, for example, is a heavily-subscribed course, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to establish oral discussion in large lectures. Many of the scrutinized courses that are math-dependent, such as 14.01 and 14.02, rely more on problem sets than written reports, and their fulfillment of HASS goals is suspect.

The Institute must have a strong HASS program to broaden the horizons of students otherwise inclined to study strictly science and engineering subjects, and the Institute must ensure that subjects designated as HASS subjects actually meet the goals of the program. The Tech believes that requiring students to take subjects from Categories 4 or 5 and stripping some current HASS classes of their status would better meet the objectives of the HASS program.