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Student Advisory Committee makes recommendations

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Calling for a radical transformation of MIT culture, the Student Advisory Committee to the Presidential Task Force on Student Life and Learning is advocating the adoption of an educational triad that places equal emphasis on research, academics and community so that "the development of the whole student becomes the highest priority across all areas at MIT," according to its recently completed final report.

The Student Advisory Committee's report is the result of nearly two years of open forums, meetings with individuals and student groups, and work with the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, which was established in September 1996 at the request of President Charles Vest. The Student Advisory Committee (SAC) was appointed shortly thereafter to advise the Task Force.

The SAC, which currently has about a dozen members (a total of 19 students have served since its inception), is in the process of holding meetings to discuss the recommendations in its report with individuals in the senior administration, including President Vest, Provost Joel Moses, the deans and the faculty chair. Committee members hope that the Task Force will adopt some of the recommendations in its own report to the president.

The SAC report calls for a far greater level of faculty and staff participation in the student community, with both monetary and administrative support for that involvement. For example, the SAC puts forth a scenario in which a faculty member could receive a temporary appointment of fixed duration as a "departmental community chair," which would come with a grant for teaching and participating in the student community.

It also calls for the increased presence of graduate students and faculty members in the undergraduate student community through the establishment of mixed graduate and undergraduate student housing as well as special living quarters for faculty within student residential halls, in addition to the current housemasters.

In addition, the report recommends changes to MIT's basic curriculum, advocating the adoption of both an undergraduate humanities core which would provide education in both communications and ethics, and a minor program for doctoral candidates.

The SAC urges a new system of governance for MIT that incorporates opportunities for student participation as a means of "learning by doing," and the framework for better interaction and integration among students from different departments, research, political, living and interest groups.

The basis of the committee's recommendations is an educational triad, a concept of education that places equal emphasis on research, academics and community.

"If MIT graduates are expected to be the leaders that make important contributions to society in the 21st century, an MIT education must better prepare students for life," the April 22 report stated.

"Students who have a narrow set of skills and are unable to adapt quickly to change are no longer desirable by employers and society in general. The leaders of tomorrow will be technically proficient, but they will also work well with others, adapt quickly to organizational and technological change, and understand the needs of the communities in which they work and live," said the report.

To achieve its goal of preparing the student for all aspects of life, the SAC called for the adoption of a Student Development Program, which would create:

  • A "clearly articulated set of competencies that all students should learn and develop" during their years at MIT both inside and outside the classroom;
  • An appropriate way of assessing that development;
  • comprehensive list of curricular, co-curricular and off-campus means for students to develop these competencies;
  • Rewards for the teachers and learners who participate;
  • Participation by all members of the MIT community, particularly faculty and staff;
  • A person and place to own and administer the Student Development Program.

The SAC is chaired by Luis Ortiz, a graduate student in materials science and engineering who also serves as one of three student members of the Task Force, along with Jeremy Sher, a junior in mathematics, and Iddo Gilon, a senior in computer science.

The 14-member Task Force, which has a total of 11 faculty members plus the three students, is co-chaired by Professor Robert Silbey of chemistry and Professor R. John Hansman of aeronautics and astronautics. Anyone who would like a copy of the Student Advisory Committee's report should contact Anthony Ives at x3-6399 or

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 13, 1998.

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