In prepared remarks to the MIT community last year, President Reif declared that one of his most cherished values includes “a commitment to meritocracy.” Indeed meritocracy is one of the values which make MIT great. Recognizing, rewarding, and encouraging the talents of its students and general population help MIT attract the brightest people in the world and keep these people happy and productive during their time here.
All across the Institute, a number of programs exist that ensure MIT remains meritocratic. Advanced Standing Exams offer students of all ranges a chance to demonstrate mastery and receive credit for subjects they have mastered. MIT even allows undergraduate students to take graduate classes. If a student proves he/she has sufficient talent, MIT proudly opens a wide range of possibilities to further challenge the student intellectually.
Meritocratic policy however, is not limited to academics. Athletics is another area where MIT recognizes and rewards students for their achievements — matching an institute record with 88 All-Americans this past year — and talents of its student body. One way that MIT rewards its athletics for their talent is by offering them PE credit for their sport. For all the hard work they invest into their sports, it is easy to see why varsity athletics deserve PE credit.
Beyond varsity sports, MIT has a number of other students who excel at athletics and physical education. These athletes practice club sports, train for races and triathlons, or simply work-out in order to stay in shape. Many of them work as hard as varsity athletics and are equally as talented. However, the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER) currently offers no incentive or reward for these students’ commitments. For PE, to really offer the kind of commitment to meritocracy that President Reif had described — the kind that MIT already has in areas like academics — DAPER administrations must find a way to recognize the athletic talent of the non-varsity population.
Offering students the opportunity to earn PE credit in ways outside the PE classes provides more flexibility for students. Just as it does for students who master General Institute Requirements and take Advanced Standing Exams (ASEs) to test out of them, MIT should let students who are proficient in physical education and wellness have the option to test out as well. There are multiple ways in which this could be done.
A first possible model for a more meritocratic PE requirement is one where students have the option to pass a single fitness and wellness test instead of taking four different PE classes. The specifics of the test would be set by DAPER and would be reflective of the core values of their program. It might include sections on wellness, nutrition, and stress management, as well as fitness, testing students on all the necessary components. Students who pass the test should demonstrate a proficient understanding of the core values of DAPER and how to utilize the values to build a healthy and balanced lifestyle. A fair test should be an equal combination of physical fitness and mental health, combining physical benchmarks with a written section. The test could even be offered only once per semester so it doesn’t cause an excessive administrative burden. DAPER could even make the test harder to pass than the Biology ASE. What is important though is for some system to exist which offers non-varsity athletes a chance to demonstrate their athletic ability and receive credit for their talents.
Passing a single fitness test is not the only possible model for a more meritocratic PE requirement. Another model offers students the chance to receive credit for specific PE classes and use the earned credit towards the eight points. For example, a student who is on the golf team, a club sport which stopped receiving PE credit after it was cut from the varsity lineup, could take the golf PE test and demonstrate sufficient knowledge about the sport. This student would then receive the two PE points he would have gotten for having taken the golf class. DAPER could make tests for a number of different PE classes, offering students who already know a great deal about one specific activity a way to receive credit for their specialty. Having a way to demonstrate and receive credit for learning different PE activities also promotes general fitness and learning new skills; offering students a chance to receive PE credit for learning a new sport provides an additional incentive for students interested in learning a new sport or activity. In this sense, this second model promotes education as much as meritocracy.
The two models outlined above are just some possibilities to make the PE requirement more flexible. Offering club sports PE credit, an idea about which I have previously written, would also be a great way to make the requirement more flexible. Beyond the implications about how a more flexible PE policy makes MIT more meritocratic, the idea is important in a broader sense: increasing the freedom and flexibility of the student body. MIT already treats its students like adults, offering freedom and autonomy beyond other the scope of other colleges. Extending this freedom to PE — offering students more freedom to demonstrate their ability to lead a healthy lifestyle — seems like a logical next step.
Sam Shames is junior in course 3.