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Learning Beyond MIT

Michael Borucke

Four years just went by in a heartbeat. Yesterday we were in Killian taking our class picture. Today, we sit in the court ready to receive a most expensive piece of paper. I can’t help but reflect a little on the education we’ve just received.

There is a quote on the second floor of the Student Center. It reads in part:

“As a great Educational Institution, we shall fall short of our mission if we fail to inspire in our students a concern for things of the spirit as well as the mind. By precept and example, we must convey to them a respect for moral values ...” (Julius Stratton, 1959.)

This of course, begs the question: Has MIT inspired spiritual concern and moral values in you? Has it even tried? Has your MIT education given you an accurate picture of the world’s problems? Did your classes show how your skills could be used to approach these problems? How many conversations about national unemployment or civil wars or crime have your classes inspired? As a graduate, do you now have an idea of how global financial institutions run the world economies? I just don’t believe that MIT has instilled in its students a knowledge of the world sufficient to respond to these and other questions.

I think this problem is reflected in what we’ve done while at MIT. By our actions, have we made this institution a fundamentally better place to learn? Have race relations improved since we were freshmen? Have we created an environment that will lessen the occurrence of rape on campus? Has our class pushed for a community without fear for both gay and straight students? Have we come to understand and respect the role MIT janitors, electricians, groundskeepers, librarians, administrative staff, cooks and others have had in allowing us our education?

This is not to imply that students have not responded to significant problems on their own. On the contrary, extra-curricular activities such as Habitat for Humanity, United Trauma Relief, Project HEALTH and others show a deep concern on the part of students for their community and the world.

My point is that MIT has done little institutionally to give its students a proper context for their skills. Personally, there have been four classes I have taken which discussed real-world problems in any depth. But these were classes I had to search for. As most students who attend MIT are mathematically inclined, non-technical classes such as these will continue to have a limited effect on the student body. As a possible response, MIT could have required freshman classes on ethics, on global and national politics. This could do a great deal to open students’ minds.

As for today’s graduates, most of us have a tiny reminder of MIT; namely, our debt. It’s easy to see how this might affect our future decisions. Maybe we choose the higher-paying job even though we would have taken the more enjoyable, lower-paying job given different circumstances. Debt rearranges priorities often, I would guess, to the detriment of the graduate and potentially the world. I can’t think of too many non-profit organizations that can compete with consulting firms in salaries. Making an MIT education free to students would not only erase the pressure of debt, but would also ensure that the most qualified students -- regardless of class -- attend.

It has been said that MIT produces people who will run the world. There’s definitely some truth to this. Course XIV, XV, and XVIII graduates will be bank executives sitting on the Federal Reserve Board, controlling interest rates and global economies. Course VII graduates will be at the forefront of biotechnology and medicine. Course VI graduates will control how society communicates (smaller and smaller cellular phones). In general, all MIT grads will have a great deal of influence on society if simply because of our esteemed educational background.

So to the graduates, I urge you to remain human: Continue to listen to the part of you that thinks genocide, war, disease and starvation are wrong and should be eliminated. The part of you that believes that democracy and equality are ideas that should endure, the part that understands how corporate interests and government behavior are not always as democratic and egalitarian as claimed.