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Dean outlines need to update programs

In a little more than eight months, members of the Class of 2000 will be settling in at MIT, an institution largely organized around academic and residential structures laid down in the 1970s, Rosalind H. Williams reminded her faculty colleagues at their regular meeting last month.

Accordingly, said Professor Williams, the Metcalfe Professor of Writing, it is "imperative for MIT to review its curricular and cocurricular structures to ensure that we are meeting the circumstances and needs of the students who will be studying here beyond the year 2000."

She updated plans for two presidential task forces--one on student life and one on student learning--which will soon be named to tackle this vital task.

"Their mandates overlap, to be sure, and for this reason the dean for undergraduate education will be responsible for facilitating communications between them," she said.

Professor Williams said MIT's curricular framework is largely based on work done by the Committee of Educational Survey (the Lewis Commission) in 1949 and the Committee on Curriculum Content Planning in 1964. The co-curricular framework consists of undergraduate residences, graduate housing and a student center, all in place by 1981.

(President Charles M. Vest, who will name the task force members soon, pointed out an interesting family connection. The Lewis Commission was headed by the late Warren K. Lewis of chemical engineering, Professor Williams's grandfather.)

Professor Williams, noted many ways in which the Class of 2000 will be "very different from the student populations for which [MIT's] curricular and residential structures were designed:"

��������������������������� The percentage of women will be far higher.��������������������������� The class will be far more diverse in its cultural, racial and ethnic composition.��������������������������� Because educational backgrounds will be more varied, students will seek multiple paths through General Institute requirements. "Students who follow careers in engineering will need more thorough preparation in areas that are distinctively practice-oriented but not narrowly technical, such as economics, communications, global perspectives and entrepreneurial skills. In addition, more MIT students will be preparing for careers in medicine, finance, law, management and related pursuits," Professor Williams said.��������������������������� The distinction between undergraduate and graduate education will be increasingly blurred for some engineering students, especially with the growing popularity of masters of engineering programs. "The shape of our graduate program will be changing along with our undergraduate one, as our relations with industry evolve, as government funding likely declines, and as new possibilities for distance learning emerge."


This task force, Professor Williams said, will assess housing and dining arrangements and campus activities for both undergraduate and graduate students and consider how they might enhance the educational community in these ways:

��������������������������� By fostering conversations and face-to-face encounters among students, faculty and staff.��������������������������� By fostering informal interactions that support and supplement academic instruction.��������������������������� By providing experiences in leadership, decision-making, administration and teamwork.��������������������������� By providing experiences in living "in environments of diversity."

The task force will provide guidance to student services reengineering teams that may deal with redesigning residence, dining and campus activities. "Only a faculty committee can appropriately define and articulate the educational goals of those processes," she said.

The task force will also develop a 10-year plan for housing, dining and activities resources based on enrollment goals. The task force will develop a medium-range plan that relates demands on student services to resources so that decisions about admissions, staffing and facilities can be made in a more orderly way. The plan should define numerical targets while giving special attention to qualitative factors affecting anticipated demand, such as the increasingly heterogeneous nature of the student population and increasing competition from other universities.


MIT's solid science and engineering core could be strengthened in two other dimensions, Professor Williams said, citing:

"practice-oriented and interdisciplinary education where the emphasis is on integrative and synthetic skills, and motivating our students to take the initiative in expanding their education with curiosity and self-confidence."

In the first phase, the task force will make a detailed qualitative and quantitative assessment of "the present state and anticipated evolution of MIT education over the next 10 years." It will also seek to define the salient characteristics of the present educational culture, with an emphasis on its motivational and reward structures. Second, the task force will relate the identified needs to MIT's educational resources, such as communication facilities, physical space, time and staff.

In a third phase of its work, the task force will "generate a series of proposed educational experiments and recommendations for approval by the Committee on Undergraduate Policy (CUP) or (where appropriate) by the full faculty.

"These proposals and recommendations should have the common purpose of expanding educational options for our students, especially in the first two undergraduate years; reducing curricula overload; and improving rates of student satisfaction.

"Like its twin, this task force too should seek to build consensus for its proposals into the process of generating them. Through close communication with departments and faculty committees, especially the CUP, the Task Force on Student Learning should produce scenarios that are feasible as well as desirable. These scenarios should include schedules and procedures for creating prototypes and for acting upon recommendations as rapidly as possible."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 6, 1995.

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