Something very important happened on Friday. The final report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons was released. The TFUEC has been working for two and a half years to redesign MIT’s GIRs (the classes that all undergraduates at MIT are required to take), and this report contains its recommendations.
Any changes made on the basis of the recommendations will probably start being implemented a few years from now, so some of you might have a vested interest in knowing what they are.
The full report (158 pages) can be read here.
The summary of the report (only 11 pages) can be read here.
I anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of talk about this over the next few months, especially among the undergraduates. Already a couple of the talk lists that I’m on have exploded with commentary, and there will be a survey and a forum and meetings and a student report.
This process, and the student reaction to it, illustrates something about MIT that I think is very important. At many schools, students only care about policy as relates to the present. If it doesn’t affect them while they’re at the school, they don’t care about it. And new students don’t ever learn that there was a change to begin with, if they arrive after it was implemented. They have no basis to support or condemn it because they don’t know that there was anything before it. None of this is the case at MIT.
The students at MIT care very deeply about policy changes, even if those changes won’t take effect until they’re gone. They take pride in, and memories out of, what they’ve experienced, and want future students to be able to have experiences that are as satisfying as theirs were, and there are values that are part of MIT culture, that they believe in, that they wish to uphold for future generations of students.
Do you like or live in Simmons? Students were part of the group that decided how to structure the Simmons community, students who never had the chance to live in the dorm that they helped design. You can read their story, as written by Jeff Roberts ’01, here. There’s currently a new undergraduate dorm being designed for the old Ashdown building, and current sophomores and juniors are applying to join the new committee – my friend and hallmate Mandie ’08 made it on.
When the residence system was being redesigned, a group of all students wrote the report that saved Dorm Rush (the ability of incoming freshmen to choose their residence after arriving on campus). Matt, who was a senior at the time, was one of the students who wrote it. The changed residence system certainly wasn’t going to be implemented in these students’ time as undergrads, but that didn’t stop them from caring that MIT preserve the values of its residence system, that future students be able to have the enriching experiences that they had.
By the same token, MIT students care about the past. Through the past, you learn what to expect for and how to shape the future. You learn about the patterns of thought that shape MIT. You learn about the causes that those a few years older than yourself thought were worth fighting for. Most of the young alums enjoy telling the stories of their battles, whether they won or lost them – in the former case, they get to relive their triumph to an interested audience, in the latter case, they get to vent their bitterness. I care about the past because I’m kind of a history geek, and also because I care about the future.
That’s MIT. It’s not a complete turnover of opinion every four years, and students having no sense of where the lives that they’re living came from and where they’re going. It’s a long and colorful story. Those of us here right now are writing our chapters.
What will your chapters be like?