Head for EditorialMIT’s core set of General Institute Requirements combines depth with breadth, exposing all undergraduates to intensive fundamental courses in both the sciences and the humanities. Nevertheless, the administration’s decision to review the GIR curriculum is sure to spawn suggested additions to an already extensive common academic program. We believe that MIT should not overwhelm its students with requirements, but if it does expand the GIRs, it should add computer programming rather than a requirement on diversity.
The study of diversity is a valid and logical area for curriculum development, but it has not yet reached the maturity required as a field to be taught alongside history and music as a HASS-D. Being a student at MIT does provide some inherent understanding of cultural and individual differences via its remarkably diverse student body, but the fact remains that students spend much of their time working and studying in a homogenizing environment. An increased emphasis of diversity in the curriculum could certainly help MIT graduates thrive in their private, professional, and civic experiences. At the same time, diversity is not a subject deserving of the status as a GIR requirement. As a concept, diversity is not well-understood or well-defined enough to successfully teach students in one class how to better appreciate and feel comfortable with diversity. MIT should develop more diversity-themed HASS courses to help support the issue and our understanding of it, but creating a diversity GIR of the same educational value as a history HASS-D class is not currently feasible.
A more logical candidate for a new GIR, keeping to MIT’s core value as a technical institute, would be introductory-level computer programming and science. A reasonable expectation of MIT students is that they learn to program at a respectable level by the time they graduate. With simulations and other software becoming more and more involved in all areas of science and engineering, students should at the very least be aware of the role computers play in their field of study. Introducing a computer programming and science requirement that, much like the Institute Lab requirement, can be satisfied by a range of well-designed courses spanning a number of majors is a sensible reform. It would recognize the fundamental importance of computers to modern practice in science and engineering.
Even computer science may not merit an additional GIR, however. Academic exploration should serve as a key component of the curriculum, even at a technical school like MIT. The current GIRs dominate almost all of freshman year for many students, inhibiting their ability to explore different majors. As the GIR taskforce progresses through its review, it should remember how extensive the current core curriculum is and how limiting adding additional requirements would prove. While there is a good argument for adding computer science, the fact remains that students have four short years in which they must be able to both fulfill MIT’s requirements and explore subjects that appeal to their individual curiosity and passions.
We should take pride in how our literature majors are well-versed in calculus and chemistry, and we should recognize how studying in a wide variety of fields increases our understanding and knowledge. MIT’s broad, interdisciplinary education would not be possible without the strong and extensive core program the GIRs provide. At the same time, mandating subjects, no matter how important they seem, should be limited so freedom of choice and the ability to explore remain intact. While we applaud efforts to reassess the entire GIR program, we caution against adding additional units to the core curriculum. MIT students must always have the flexibility to explore their passions, because there is no better time than now.