Final Report of the CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement

February 3, 2000

CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement

Gene Brown, Co-chair

Langley Keyes, Jr., Co-chair

Tarek El Aguizy '99, student member

Steven Hall, member

Ole Madsen, member

James Paradis, member

Ruth Perry, member

Steven Pinker, member

Erick Tseng, '01 student member

George Verghese, member

Madeline Brown, staff

Leslie Perelman, staff


Table of Contents



Executive Summary

The development of good writing and speaking abilities is fundamental to the goals of a university education. Clarity, organization, and eloquence in the marshaling of facts and ideas into persuasive arguments have universal value, regardless of a student's choice of career. Today, MIT departments and faculty recognize that these abilities are critical to their educational mission. The professional world is changing. Engineers, humanists, consultants, and scientists all are increasingly called upon to inform and persuade a wide variety of audiences. Consequently, departments are integrating instruction and practice in writing and speaking into their undergraduate major programs.

The current undergraduate Writing Requirement does not adequately support this major curricular change. Because the Writing Requirement is, at best, an inefficient and not very effective mechanism for ensuring minimum compete= ncy in writing, it does not adequately instruct undergraduates in the specific conventions of professional writing in their field, nor does it instruct them in the crucial abilities to communicate effectively through oral and visual media.

To provide MIT undergraduates with the skills and abilities necessary for both professional and personal success, we propose that the Faculty fulfill its intention, articulated in April 1997, to replace this competency-based requirement housed in the central administration with an instructionally-based Communication Requirement housed in academic units. The pilot programs and experiments mandated by the Faculty and undertaken by departments during the past two years demonstrate that, with relatively modest additional institutional support, integrating instruction in writing and, eventually, speaking throughout the undergraduate curriculum is feasible. These experiments indicate that, rather than diminishing academic content, this instruction and practice may often enhance it. In addition, these pilot programs offer several models for how to provide such instruction without significantly increasing the workload of regular faculty.

Specifically, we propose that, beginning with first-year students enterin= g the Fall 2001 term, the current Writing Requirement be replaced with a new General Institute Requirement: the Communication Requirement. Just as UROP made doing research a regular part of undergraduate experience at the Institute, the Communication Requirement will make communicating information a regular part of undergraduate education at MIT.

The Communication Requirement will mandate that students must complete at least one Communication-intensive (CI) subject by the end of their first year, two CI subjects by the end of their second year, three CI subjects by the end of their third year, and four CI subjects before they receive the SB degree.

Governance. Departments and other academic units will have wide latitude in defining the writing and speaking activities appropriate for their particular academic and professional cultures. The Communication Requirement will be governed by the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement, a standing Subcommittee of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program. This body shall act with power in establishing educational policies for the Communication Requirement and will administer and manage the transition from the Writing Requirement.

Institutional Support. Academic units are encouraged to develop their own resources and staff for instruction in writing and speaking. However, because this new curriculum must not significantly increase the workload of an already overworked faculty, additional Institute support will be necessary for its successful implementation.


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Last modified: February 14, 2000