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Students Discuss Task Force Goals

Gathering Undergrad Feedback Purpose of Sunday Town Hall Meeting

By

Valery K. Brobbey
STAFF REPORTER


Students at Sunday’s town hall meeting on the newly proposed General Institute Requirements voiced their dislike for limited choices in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and debated which classes should be included in the Science, Engineering, and Mathematics portion of the GIRs.

About 25 undergraduates attended the event, providing feedback for the final report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons.

The meeting’s purpose was to foster discussion on the task force report, said Aron Walker ’07, a member of the Student Advisory Committee, which is evaluating the task force’s report. The SAC, which called the meeting, plans to launch an undergraduate survey soon and gather results by the end of November and write a report compiling student opinion over the Independent Activities Period. Members of the Undergraduate Association Student Committee on Educational Policy were also present at the meeting.

Regarding the proposed Science, Engineering, and Mathematics portion of the GIRs, initial discussion centered around whether the science requirement should focus on breadth across the sciences or specialization in one field of science. The proposal is meant to provide more flexibility in course selection for students. In addition to three foundational subjects that are required — 18.01 (Calculus I), 18.02 (Calculus II), and 8.01 (Physics I) — students would also have to take one subject from each of five out of six categories: math, physical sciences, chemistry, life sciences, computation and engineering, and project-based first-year experiences.

While some students favored the five out of six category idea proposed by the task force, others favored a five out of five category system and some preferred the current science core. In a straw poll conducted during the meeting, five out of 21 students favored the 5/6 idea, eight favored a 5/5 system, four favored the current system, and four abstained.

One of the criticisms of the new SME requirements raised at last week’s UA Senate meeting is that, as proposed, students could potentially miss out on an entire field of study, such as biology or chemistry.

Students also debated which subjects should be required of MIT undergraduates. Questions were raised as to why 18.02 is required instead of 18.03 (Differential Equations), which students at the meeting considered to be more useful. Interestingly, more people at the meeting believed that if only three foundational subjects are required, those subjects should be 18.01, 8.01, and 8.02 (Physics II), as opposed to 18.03.

One striking question posed by one of the students present is why 8.01 should take precedence over a class such as 17.40 (American Foreign Policy), bringing back into the spotlight the question of what the goals of an MIT education should be.

As for the proposed Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences changes, there was a general dislike of the first-year common experience class, taken from the “First-Year Experience Program.” Sixteen out of 20 students opposed the proposed first-year common experience class, no one favored it, and four students abstained. The proposed HASS requirement would have two major phases, a foundational phase that would be completed within the first two years and a concentration phase. The foundational phase would include one class from each of three categories — humanities, arts, and social sciences — one of which would be a freshman experience class that would tackle a “big idea” like poverty, globalization, or human nature.

The task force hopes that the first-year experience class will bring freshmen together to work on their HASS assignments and increase the significance freshmen place on HASS classes.

Students present during the town hall meeting felt that limiting the choice of HASS subjects would make things worse, saying that with a large variety of HASS subjects to choose from, students are more likely to care about those classes.

At the end of the meeting, there was also a short discussion on what emphasis should be placed on Orientation. The report states that there should be more of an intellectual focus, while students have said that orientation is one of the only opportunities for students to explore housing options. According to one student at the meeting, there has been strong reactions from housemasters on both sides of the issue.

“I thought it went well,” Walker said after the meeting. “Good ideas were expressed and many were very insightful.”

Walker said that the most important version is that “students should be excited and engaged” in discussing and giving feedback to the task force report. Students who are interested in joining SAC should e-mail edcomm-sac@mit.edu.

Besides recommending possible changes to the core curriculum, the task force report also identifies a set of goals for the education of MIT undergraduates and makes recommendations on how to improve the infrastructure of undergraduate education and how to improve study-abroad programs. The report is available at http://web.mit.edu/committees/edcommons/documents/task_force_report.html.