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Faculty To Approve New CI Requirement

By Matthew Palmer

A subcommittee of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program presented its final report of a plan to implement a new Communications Requirement at a faculty meeting Wednesday. The addition to the MIT undergraduate curriculum aims to improve students’ mastery of writing and speaking.

The report, which will be voted on at the March faculty meeting, would replace the current Writing Requirement with a four-year program of new Communication Intensive courses. Most of the CI classes would be modified versions of existing classes, with an emphasis on writing, revising, and speaking.

“We’re giving students experience with writing and oral communication for four years,” said Biology Professor Gene M. Brown. He and Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Langley C. Keyes, Jr. were co-chairs of the CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement, which wrote the report.

Beginning with the Class of 2005, students would be required to take at least one CI course each year for four years. In the first two years, students can take humanities courses from any department. In the Junior and Senior years, students will take CI courses within their major.

The classes would resemble pilot projects, started by Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 in 1997, which led to the requirement. These projects include oral presentations on architecture, writing clinics about physiology, and the option to publish in the Biology Undergraduate Research Journal.

Incoming students would continue to take the Freshman Evaluation Essay over the summer. Those who fail will still have to take an expository writing course, but the new requirements mandate that it be taken freshman year.

The first CI courses will appear by 2002, but it will take until 2008 for the proposed public speaking requirement to be set up.

Enthusiasm about new program

Reactions by faculty and students have been mostly favorable; the CUP report is expected to be passed at next month’s faculty meeting.

“There is enormous enthusiasm in the central administration about moving forward with the Communications Requirement,” said President Charles M. Vest.

“I commend the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement for developing an initiative that does not add classes to an already crowded curriculum, but rather weaves the requirement within existing structures,” said Undergraduate Association President Matthew L. McGann ’00.

“We talked to students -- most realize how important writing, speaking, and visual communication is for their professional careers and their lives,” Keyes said.

Some students worry, however, that the new requirement will mean more stress and less choices with HASS courses.

“The new rules will remove some flexibility from the HASS requirement,” McGann said.

However, Brown said the subcommittee crafted the new requirements to avoid crowding already tight schedules.

“It’s embedded in the existing curriculum,” he said. “There are no new required classes.”

Brown also added that the new program will require faculty and financial support.

Three amendments shot down

At the meeting, faculty members voted down all three amendments to the final report proposed by Ruth Perry, a professor of literature and member of the CUP subcommittee.

Perry said she was in support of the overall plan, but thought it needed strengthening. “I cannot remain silent about subjects so essential to undergraduate education,” she said.

Perry’s amendments would have required every student to take at least one small CI class taught by a faculty member, added “reading” to “writing and speaking” in the list of qualifications for a CI class, and placed a professor of literature on the CUP subcommittee overseeing the new rules.