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Committee Debates Fate of Course XIII

By Marissa Vogt


A committee formed last Sept. to investigate the possibility of merging the Department of Ocean Engineering (Course XIII) with two other departments recently reported its initial findings to Dean of Engineering Thomas L. Magnanti.

The purpose of the committee is “to look at the Ocean Engineering department and assess the strengths ... and to make recommendations about the organizational structure,” said Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Alan V. Oppenheim ’61, chair of the committee.

Members of the committee were selected last summer and have been meeting since September to discuss the possibility of merging ocean engineering with the Department of Civil Engineering (Course I) or the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Course XVI).

“We’re essentially mainly fact-finding at this point,” Oppenheim said, calling a merger with Aero-Astro “only one of a variety of possibilities.”

The committee presented its interim report a few weeks ago to Dean Magnanti and met with the entire Ocean Engineering department. The committee reported that when it gives its final report to Magnanti in May, it will not give a recommendation but will instead present an evaluation of three possible choices, said Ocean Engineering Professor J. Kim Vandiver PhD ’75.

The three probable options, Vandiver said, are mergers with one of two possible departments or staying an independent department. If Ocean Engineering does remain an independent department, there is a possibility that the undergraduate degree program will be removed, Vandiver said.

After the committee issues its final report in May, a decision will be made by Magnanti and other administrators.

Magnanti was unavailable for comment.

SB program gets ‘great evaluation’

An e-mail sent in January to students in the department by Professor Nicholas M. Patrikalakis PhD ’83 gave students in the department preliminary results of the evaluation and said that “the OE SB program has received a great evaluation on its quality and educational effectiveness.”

The e-mail quoted the evaluation by School of Engineering Director of Education Assessment Barbara Masi. “Rather than discard this small, but valuable program, it is recommended that it be maintained as a model of undergraduate engineering education,” Masi wrote.

Vandiver said that he believes one of the reasons why the department is being reviewed is “because [ocean engineering] has such a small undergraduate program.”

“Every option has its downsides,” Vandiver said. “The point I most care about is the ability of MIT undergraduates to study naval architecture and ocean engineering at MIT ... there would need to have a degree option preserved,” whether the department merges or not.

“If the department stays independent but shrinks, that’s not good,” Vandiver said.

“What our committee is out to do is the absolute best for MIT and ocean engineering as a discipline,” Oppenheim said. “The outcome of this will hopefully be very positive.”

“The message to get out there is that MIT undergraduates deserve a wide variety of choice in what they get their degree in,” Vandiver said. “It isn’t just about ocean engineering, it’s about ... maintaining a diversity of choice for MIT students.”

Student, faculty views considered

Since the committee began meeting in September they have interviewed every member of the ocean engineering faculty and held meetings with students to get opinions. Additionally, the interim report was presented to not only Magnanti, but also to the entire Ocean Engineering faculty, said Vandiver.

“They did ask for our input ... what we thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the department and our educational program,” said Kathryn S. Wasserman ’04, a student in the department. “Most of the students want to keep the department [as] Course XIII, and don’t want to be merged with any other department.”

Members of the committee include three professors in Ocean Engineering, including Henrik Schmidt, acting department head, as well as four professors in other departments. The committee was formed at Magnanti’s request.