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Faculty approves new communication requirement

The faculty voted at its March 15 meeting to replace the proficiency-based Writing Requirement with an instructionally based Communication Requirement that mandates substantial instruction and practice in writing and speaking for all undergraduates starting in 2001.

The Class of 2005 and subsequent entering students will be required to take communication-intensive courses in each of their undergraduate years. These courses normally will be taken in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Science during the first two years and in the student's major department during the junior and senior years. The courses will include practice in writing and speaking. These reforms were proposed in the final report of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement.

Several faculty -- among them Dr. Alan P. Lightman, the John E. Burchard Professor of Science and Writing -- noted that the new requirement represents an academic breakthrough. "This is a great day for MIT," said Professor Lightman, who headed the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies from 1991-95.

In other business, Vice President and Dean for Research J. David Litster discussed two issues: MIT's conflict of interest guidelines, and the federal financial interest disclosure reports to MIT required from investigators seeking research support from the Public Health Service or National Science Foundation. Professor Donald L. Sadoway, chair of the Faculty Policy Committee's Subcommittee on Exam and Term Regulations, reported on revisions involving undergraduate classes. Additional topics included the annual student discipline and harassment reports and an outline of the new junior faculty leave policy (MIT Tech Talk, March 1).


Faculty members adopted a substitute motion to approve the communications requirement plan, which calls for the CUP to present an implementation plan to the faculty next February. The amended motion was proposed in response to questions raised by Committee on Curricula and the Committee on Academic Performance regarding implementation and monitoring.

The substitute motion was supported by Professor Steven Lerman, chair of the faculty, and Professor Suzanne Flynn (CUP chair) in a statement distributed at the meeting. They called for CUP to form groups to establish grounds rules for phasing out the existing writing requirement, criteria for communications-intensive classes and oversight procedures.

Before voting on the motion, the faculty rejected an amendment that would have modified the language to require "essentially" communications classes. Professor Gene Brown, co-chair of the subcommittee, opposed the addition, saying it "guts the subcommittee's recommendations."

The subcommittee had noted a number of successful pilot programs created in recent years that provide a variety of communications experiences, including tutorials on mechanical engineering, biology and physics; the Biology Project Laboratory; and student capstone research journals in biology and mathematics.

The final report on the Communication Requirement is available on line.


Dean Litster said the conflict-of-interest guidelines (MIT Tech Talk, January 26) are designed to provide examples of unacceptable situations rather than set down hard and fast rules.

Starting this year, MIT requires financial disclosure forms to be updated simultaneously with MIT's own disclosure of outside professional activities. MIT must report to the federal funding agencies that the information has been filed and that there are no conflicts of interest, or that potential conflicts are managed appropriately. Specific information provided to MIT is confidential.

See the web site for additional information.


Professor Sadoway proposed several revisions to regulations governing undergraduate classes, including a ban on academic exercises from 5pm on Fridays until 8am on Mondays.

The subcommittee proposes that all end-of-term testing occur during the final exam period, and that there be no testing during the last week of a semester. It would limit night exams to two hours starting no earlier than 7:30pm and continue the Monday night ban. It also would maintain the existing regulation that a regular class must be canceled or a homework assignment dropped if an exam is scheduled outside of class time.

While continuing the ban on take-home finals, the subcommittee recommends the introduction of ex camera finals, a six-hour exam that allows students free access to unlimited resources. The policies on graduate subjects are unaffected by the new proposals.

The entire report is available on line. The faculty will vote on a motion to adopt the revisions at its April meeting.


Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates said that aside from considering some alcohol-related violations, 1998-99 was a "typical year" for the Committee on Discipline (COD) on cases involving academic misconduct. She said the committee had "established precedents" for sanctions involving alcohol violations. These sanctions included suspension for one term, informal probation and warning letters.

Dean Bates, speaking for Professor Steven Graves, chair of the COD, asked faculty members to tell the committee about incidents where academic dishonesty has been dealt with by the instructor or department to provide a complete history of students who are charged formally.


Professor Emeritus Samuel J. Keyser said the annual harassment survey resulted in 71 complaints last year, 31 involving general mistreatment and 15 regarding sexual harassment. Other charges were racial or ethnic (5), sexual orientation (2), religious (2), disability (1) and gender (7). Eight could not be categorized. In 1998, 78 complaints were received. Professor Keyser said 1,000 MIT faculty and staff had participated in harassment seminars since their inception in 1993.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 29, 2000.

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