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Faculty Vote to Kill Second-Term P/NR For Spring of 2003

By Jennifer Krishnan


About 100 faculty members voted unanimously on Wednesday to eliminate second-term Pass/ No Record for the 2002-2003 class year.

A motion to delay the changes by one academic year was defeated after 30 minutes of discussion. The motion, urged by Undergraduate Association President Peter A. Shulman ’01 and introduced by former MIT President and Professor Emeritus Paul E. Gray ’54, earned support from about one-fourth of the faculty members present.

In addition, the faculty agreed to allow sophomores to designate one subject per term as “exploratory.” Students taking an exploratory subject will have the option of switching to listener status for that subject after seeing their grades at the end of the term.

UA asks for one-year delay

In urging a one-year delay in the elimination of second-term Pass/ No Record, Shulman pointed to the Interfraternity Council’s preparations for rush in 2002, when all freshmen will be housed in dormitories. “Changing the grading system at [the same] time will hinder the work they have done” so far, he said.

In addition, about 850 undergraduates have signed a petition asking the faculty to delay the implementation of the proposed changes, Shulman said.

Gray supported Shulman’s recommendation. “We’ve had Pass/ No Record for 30 years,” he said. “One more year is not going to make much [of a] difference.”

Making just one change would have a very strong impact, and making “two at once will be more than twice as severe,” said Graduate Student Council Vice President Ryan J. Kershner.

Chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program Robert L. Jaffe said that the proposed change was “long overdue” and should be implemented promptly.

Professor Arthur Steinberg spoke of being “bothered” by the performance of freshmen and said that he wanted to put the change into effect as soon as possible because “freshmen will be more receptive” to the material being taught if they have to earn grades.

Delay considered winnable battle

Shulman said he was disappointed with the faculty’s decision to not delay the elimination one year. However, he said he was pleased that the proposed amendment “sparked an interesting conversation among the faculty.”

Shulman said that although response from the undergraduate population in response to the A-B-C/ No Record change was split, the UA decided to support the plan because trying to resist it would have been “a losing battle to fight. ... We had a shot” at winning on the issue of the delay, Shulman said.

“What would have made the biggest difference would have been getting more faculty members who understood the issue there,” Shulman said. A lot of support for the proposed delay came from the junior faculty, and they were just not aware, he said.

Exploratory subjects endorsed

The faculty also unanimously agreed to endorse a plan allowing sophomores to designate one class each semester as “exploratory.”

A student enrolled in an exploratory subject may either accept the grade earned or change the subject to listener status at the end of the term.

Any subject may be designated as exploratory, including Institute requirements and departmental requirements.

“It’s the best part of this whole proposal,” Shulman said. “It’s not until senior year that people take the really random subjects. ... This allows them to explore before they decide on a major.”

SM in Science Writing proposed

MIT may soon offer a Master’s degree in Science Writing. Professor Robert Kanigel brought forward a proposal at the meeting for a Master’s program in Science Writing on behalf of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies.

The Master’s program, which will take one year to complete, will consist of electives, a year-long seminar, a thesis, and a summer internship. Teaching Assistants will take two years to complete the program.

“We have some of the most distinguished science writers in the country,” said James Paradis, head of the Program in Writing. “There will be no need to recruit” new faculty for the program.

Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Philip S. Khoury said that the new Master’s program would help “keep our very good [writing program] faculty content by training people in their images.”

The faculty will vote on this proposal in May.