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September 23, 1987 - Image 35

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The Michigan Daily, 1987-09-23

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of the engineer is rooted in the society," says
MIT president Paul E. Gray. The institute
also figures that better communicators not
only will promote technology more effec-
tively but also will promote themselves into
management. "Broadeningtheireducation
will, in fact, maximize their careers," pre-
dicts Samuel J. Keyser, associate provost
for educational programs and policy.
These goals, while lofty, sparked contro-
versy. Angry students quickly cobbled up a
critique of the curriculum reform-an im-
pressive act considering they prepared
their attack in the stress-packed final days
of the spring 1987 semester. They weren't
upset at having to learn about Spinoza;
most were angry that students had not
been consulted on the changes. Worse, the
student report claimed, the ┬░new rules
would narrow course options without
broadening the educational experience
and end up eliminating more offbeat hu-
manities classes.
No strings, please: Packed solid as it is with
finely tempered minds, young and older,
MIT is no stranger to either dissent or
academic controversy. MIT scholars bris-
tle at corporate research grants that ap-
pear to have strings attached. In a 1982
incident, for instance, 33 tenured faculty
members signed a protest letter claiming
a $7.5 million grant to produce a biology
research center was too closely tied to the
donor's business interests. (MIT took the
money.) Military research also produces
mixed emotions and responses. MIT's
technological contributions, such as over-
the-horizon radar, helped immensely to
win World War II, and the school is one of
the largest recipients of Pentagon research
funds-nearly $400 million on campus and
at the affiliated Lincoln Labs in fiscal 1987.
At the same time, however, 70 faculty
members signed a pledge to refuse work on
the Reagan administration's Strategic De-
fense Initiative (Star Wars).
Thus politics in its way rivals science
and engineering for MIT's attention. Now,

No room for dweebs: Fraternity house
turned the 40,000-item collection into a
fun house, with scifi paraphernalia cover-
ing the walls and ceiling. The question
many students must ask, says member
Tom McKendree: "Should I do my home-
work and pass or choose a random science-
fiction novel?"
Despite demonstrably varied student in-
terests, MIT's historic attitude toward the
humanities has been, well, relaxed. A
study of the 1985 graduating class revealed
that 31 percent did not take a literature
course and that 62 percent did not com-
plete any undergraduate class in history.
The curriculum reform is intended to
change such figures-not by increasing
the number of required courses
but by reducing the number
of course classifications so
that students cannot substitute
esoteric-sounding courses like
Creative Seeing for funda-
mentals. And the Undergradu-
ate Research Opportunities
Program lets students do re-
search directly under faculty
supervision.
Why make engineers read
Shakespeare? MIT hopes bet-
ter-rounded scientists and engi-
neers can appreciate the social
consequences of technology-
the better to understand, for ex-
ample, the cost in human terms
of a shuttle explosion or a Bho-
pal catastrophe. "The activity High-pow.

Pressure and relief: Taking a chess break
more and more, so do such subjects as archi-
tecture, the traditional social sciences and
newer ones like women's studies. Always,
though, the institute imparts its own tech-
nological tinge. MIT sociologist Sherry
Turkle has produced ground-breaking
studies on the ways that computers and
people interact. Even the fine arts have
a high-tech gloss: the stunning arts-and-
media-technology building, designed by
architect I. M. Pei, houses bold artistic ex-
periments in everything from computer-
aided images to artistic skywriting. Nor is
it business as usual at MIT. The new dean of
the Sloan School of Management, econo-
mist Lester Thurow, is retooling the pro-
gram to concentrate on the troubled area of
manufacturing-calculating that MIT can
lead the way toward restoring its health.
None of this will change
MIT's image in certain artis-
tic eyes. The late poet Rob-
ert Frost, for one, waxed acer-
bic when asked his opinion of
an earlier change in MIT policy
allowing students to take half
their courses in the human-
ities. Gibed the poet: "They
are now allowed to become 50
percent cultured." Skepticism
aside, MIT simply isn't satis-
fied to be the best at scientif-
ic teaching and research. With
its reforms, the institute hopes
to produce scientists who can
comprehend humanity better
than most humanists can com-
prehend science.
)pen JOHN SCHWARTZ in Cambridge

red classrooms: Engineering professor Eric Ip

SEPTEMBER 1987

NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS 19

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