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Student information policy, degrees discussed

At a busy faculty meeting on April 15, members heard about a proposed new Student Information Policy and received motions to establish two new master's degree programs.

They also heard President Vest's update on actions taken in response to the November 1997 "Sense of the Faculty" resolution on undergraduate life, and Professor Steven B. Leeb's citation as the 1998 Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award winner (see stories on this page).

Associate Provost Phillip L. Clay presented the case for reviewing and updating the Student Information Policy. A draft of the updated policy had already been distributed. The next step is review by MIT's legal counsel.

Professor Clay cited changes in the amount of information about students that is electronically maintained and distributed; the greater potential access to information by students, faculty and staff; legal, regulatory and reporting requirements; and the need to balance privacy with administrative needs as forces driving the policy update.

He summarized issues for the faculty that arise from storing student information electronically, beginning with two caveats: one, that students do have the right to suppress information about themselves and, two, that e-mail is not secure and should not be used for confidential information.

Sparked by several faculty inquiries, a discussion ensued on the general topic of how students, faculty and the larger world interact. Questions included whether written permission must be given by students before faculty may write letters of recommendation or respond to questions, by phone or in person, from potential employers or others.

Motions to establish two new masters' degree programs were made by Dean of Humanities and Social Science Philip Khoury and Professor of Literature Henry Jenkins, and by J. Kim Vandiver, professor of ocean engineering and director of the Edgerton Center. Professor Vandiver presented a proposal for a joint MIT/WHOI master of engineering program in ocean engineering. Both motions will be voted on at the next faculty meeting.

Dean Khoury and Professor Jenkins proposed that MIT establish a master of science degree program in comparative media studies.

Professor Jenkins cited the proposed degree program as a "possibility to place MIT at the front of an emerging discipline." Among its goals would be "to understand mediated communications technology, to broaden the historical framework from Homer to the holodeck, to examine the interplay among different media, and to develop theoretical and hands-on experience."

"This program makes eminent sense. Why shouldn't MIT be a world leader in the development of and the study of media?" Dean Khoury said.

The degree program would reside in the literature section of Course 21 (humanities) as an extension of the Film and Media Studies Program.

Arnoldo C. Hax, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Management and chair of the Nominations Committee, presented the slate of nominees for various faculty committees and officers. The nominee for faculty chair-elect is Steven R. Lerman, professor of civil and environmental engineering. If elected, he would become chair of the faculty for the 1999-2000 academic year.

Professor Lotte Bailyn, faculty chair, presented a motion to change the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty, replacing references to "Director of Admissions" with "Dean of Admissions" to reflect the recent change in title of that position.

Answering concerns over the "proliferation of deans," President Charles M. Vest said, "This has really become the standard title for those with strong oversight of that activity. The Dean of Admissions will play a larger overall role in ODSUE structure."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 29, 1998.

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