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Committee Considers HASS Changes

By Tiffany Chen


The Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons is considering revisions of the General Institute Requirements that may include adding a diversity requirement and simplifying the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences requirements. These adjustments will be proposed to the community at a forum on Mar. 3, 2005.

The community forum, titled “What can you do with a four-year university education?” will seek to elicit student input on various educational issues.

The committee has not yet made clear any proposals for changing the science part of the GIRs.

Formed in Spring 2004, the Task Force was charged with reviewing MIT’s educational mission statement and deriving a specific set of goals for the common curriculum requirements.

The last major review of the undergraduate curriculum was in 1949 by the Lewis Committee, which shifted the curriculum from a vocational to professional orientation and established the school of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Since then, incremental changes such as the biology requirement have been added.

Diversity GIR considered

To provide students with the cultural appreciation many view as necessary for today’s society, the Task Force is considering adding a Diversity GIR.

John R. Velasco ’05, a member of the Student Advisory Committee to the Task Force, said that the purpose of the Diversity GIR is to “remind MIT that one of its strengths is diversity.”

Robert P. Redwine, dean for undergraduate education and a task force member, explained that students grow up in “isolated societies with similar backgrounds,” so the need to appreciate differences is very important here at MIT.

The Student Advisory Committee has elicited student feedback on the idea of a Diversity GIR through their online discussion board, which has reflected a generally negative sentiment against the Diversity GIR.

However, Velasco said that the discussion board was “not meant to just focus on a Diversity GIR, but diversity in general,” especially how to promote it at MIT, a misunderstanding that may have led to much of the debate in the discussion board.

Redwine said that the problem with a Diversity GIR is that students may not view it as having the same importance as the other GIRs. Redwine said that “everybody agrees with the goal [of the Diversity GIR]... The question is if it is credible.”

Velasco explained that the Task Force began pursuing the idea of a Diversity GIR last fall, when a group of student leaders from Advocates for Awareness and other groups proposed possible models of promoting diversity at MIT.

Other adjustments possible

The Student Advisory Committee is also considering adjusting HASS requirements.

According to Velasco, the Student Advisory Committee agrees with the goals of the HASS distribution (HASS-D), concentration, and communication requirements, but expressed the general feeling that “simple is better” in terms of the various requirements.

Currently, students are required to complete eight HASS classes, three of which are HASS-D classes from different categories, such as literature or history. Students must also complete two communication-intensive classes and form a HASS concentration using three or four of their HASS classes.

The Student Advisory Committee is also considering a revision of the science requirements but has yet to unveil detailed suggestions. The last adjustment to the science requirements was the addition of the biology requirement in 1991.

The Student Advisory Committee is also seeking to improve advising and mentoring programs, particularly beyond the freshman year. Velasco said that the committee has been exploring “how to foster student-faculty interaction and mentoring.”

Redwine also said that the Task Force is considering ideas on how to “add excitement to the freshman year,” citing more project-based, hands-on learning.

“Students live from one pset to the next and work deadline to deadline,” Redwine said. He expressed the Task Force’s desire to make some “time for reflection,” citing the Cambridge-MIT Exchange program as a good way for students to reflect upon what they have learned.

Velasco added that for students, “this is the time to get involved” with their education and encouraged students to provide their input at the community forum in March.