Part IV: Expectations of the Faculty

"In theory, the ideal undergraduate program would integrate the student's total educational experience in order to provide the basis for the breadth of interests and for the sense of values which the graduate should acquire. The problem of providing this integration by juggling the curricula has never been solved, and perhaps never will be. It could conceivably be solved by a sort of super-faculty, in which each teacher was not only expert in his own subject but active and competent in a number of others., such a faculty remains the ideal of educational institutions." - p.93 of the Lewis Report, 1949.

If the goal of education is preparation for life, then we must understand the kind of life for which students are now preparing. Currently, although a large number of MIT students do not plan to engage in traditional science and engineering for the rest of their lives, most are interested in obtaining a science- and engineering-based education as preparation for their career. Further, as science and technology are becoming increasingly more integrated into the world at large, science is no longer limited to academia, journals and the laboratory. As the Faculty have witnessed the rise in the influence of science on other fields, they have started to see their influence on society take on a larger scope. However, although their scope of influence widens, they do not seem to be willing to widen the scope of the education they are providing.

As students desire a broader education, they do not seek a less rigorous classroom experience per se, but rather, a recognition of the importance of student and faculty involvement in endeavors outside of the classroom and laboratory. Students are generally disappointed with the level of faculty-student interaction. Although many faculty claim high availability and open door policies, in practice, most MIT students are too intimidated to approach their professors without expressed interest or invitation (considering the age and developmental levels of students upon entrance to MIT, this is not surprising). Class size may also contribute to situations in which students complete courses without personally interacting with their instructors. In addition, there are very few, if any, activities and events outside the classroom through which faculty and students can interact informally.

It seems that students expect the following from faculty: classroom instruction, research advising, curricular advising, and mentoring. The faculty can also serve as role models outside the classroom. (For example, if students are to be civic-minded, one would expect the faculty to demonstrate civic-minded behavior.) Therefore, the five major areas in which the faculty impact the life and learning of students are: classroom teaching, advising, research, as role models and through espousing civic responsibility. These five areas then become the thematic areas in which faculty performance ought to be evaluated.

4.1 Classroom Teaching

The explicit goal of classroom teaching is to efficiently and effectively transfer curricular knowledge to students. But more abstractly, faculty should help students learn how to learn, which requires effective pedagogy as well as appropriate subject material. Numerous faculty excel at teaching in the classroom; however, it is not apparent that high quality teaching is consistently rewarded. Even more dangerous is the fact that there seem to be insufficient formal mechanisms to help professors become better educators. From the student perspective, classroom teaching is one of the most tangible goods which MIT provides. Consequently, quality of classroom teaching should be broadly supported and carefully monitored. Good classroom teaching should be rewarded (not just encouraged) and institutionalized.

4.2 Advising

This type of student-faculty interaction has two components, both of which seem to be currently lacking for undergraduate and graduate students: career advising and academic advising. Ideally, as experts in their fields, it seems as if faculty could easily provide students with assistance and advice about career choices and outlook while realizing the limitations of their own experiences.

As regards academic advising, it is especially important for undergraduates to be able to rely on faculty advice and assistance while seeking and developing an academic focus. As it is becoming increasingly important for graduate students to utilize the curriculum to help broaden their education, graduate student advisors should begin to take on the additional role of advising their students about educational opportunities available outside students’ primary field of study.

4.3 Research

Probably the most well-developed skill of the faculty, research is the avenue by which graduate students receive their education and by which undergraduates receive important introductions to scientific fields. However, because the actual interaction between faculty and students varies greatly, the educational benefits of this avenue may be compromised in some cases.

4.4 Role Models

Because faculty serve as role models to students regardless of whether they do so consciously or deliberately, they should be very aware of the types of behavior they exhibit to students. Some members of the Committee have suggested that it might be advantageous to replace the current emphasis on being a ‘great scientist’ with the concept of being a ‘great person who does great science.’

4.5 Civic Responsibility

This area seems to receive little consideration by faculty, perhaps because traditional academic reward structures (e.g., promotion and tenure systems) do not reward it. Ideally, the faculty would combine MIT’s traditional rugged individualism with a community minded nature, realizing that civic responsibility is part of a value system which supports highly the importance of other aspects and mechanisms of education.

MIT should encourage faculty (via reward structures, faculty selection and faculty job descriptions) to be responsible members of the community.

"They are men with international reputations for their creative professional work who nevertheless find the time for the non-professional civic and cultural interests which characterize the ideal teacher. The most important single thing that the institute can do for the general education is to increase the proportion of these people on the faculty. We have such people; we can have more." -Lewis Report.

Hence, the ideal of a super-faculty, originally espoused by the Lewis Report, is reiterated by the students of today.

4.6 Summary

The Committee has noted that it requires a great deal of time for faculty to engage successfully in all of the above (classroom teaching, advising, research, role modeling, and civic responsibility). Given that faculty are currently only able to attend to a mere subset of these tasks and time is already a scarce commodity at MIT, it would be impossible for them to fulfill additional expectations without 1) some shifts in relative priorities, 2) reallocation of time for specific tasks, and 3) efforts to achieve multiple goals simultaneously. Proper institutional rewards and incentives must be provided to encourage these shifts.


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