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The Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Overview Committee is considering proposals that would make the communications component of some HASS classes more intensive and reduce their maximum enrollment to 18, simplify the HASS-D groupings, and develop a HASS role in the proposed communication requirement.
The committee, chaired by Professor Peter Child, head of music and theater arts, is scheduled to provide a written report for the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) before the semester ends. It was charged with reviewing the entire HASS requirement, including its underlying educational principles, HASS-D groupings (the D stands for distribution), scheduling, HASS-D criteria and the effect of the HASS minor on the joint major program.
The committee is also evaluating when HASS-D subjects should be taken and the issues that arise when classes function simultaneously as distribution subjects and as required subjects for HASS majors and minors.
"A thorough review doesn't mean there will be reforms in all areas," said Professor Child, noting that the primary focus would be on the issue of HASS-D groupings and the communication requirement initiative in HASS.
He said communication-intensive classes that stress oral and written skills have been offered on an experimental basis this year. Faculty feedback on these classes has been positive, he said. "We've learned a great deal about how to do it better, how to make it much more effective." Another round of pilot HASS communication-intensive classes will be offered next year.
Each HASS-D class requires students to complete at least three written assignments totaling at least 20 pages. One option being discussed would include the revision of one paper as part of the writing component in communication-intensive HASS-D classes, possibly in place of a final exam.
Also under consideration are developing a discussion component and reducing the size of HASS-D communication-intensive classes. Presently, they cap at 25.
Professor Child said the committee is considering dividing HASS-D subjects into three groups -- "Humanities," "Arts" and "Social Sciences" -- rather than the five categories now in place. Subjects in the current categories one and two, "Literary and Textual Studies" and "Language, Thought and Value," would be humanities; category three, "Visual and Performing Arts," would become the arts; categories four and five, "Cultural and Social Studies" and "Historical Studies," would be social sciences. Under this revised and simplified grouping, students would be required to take one subject from each of the three categories.
Under the present system, students are required to take one subject from category one, two or three; one subject from category 4 or 5; and one from any remaining category. "Students and faculty find the present system complicated and confusing," said Professor Child.
Besides simplifying the requirement, Professor Child said, the new system would preclude students from bypassing humanities or arts subjects while fulfilling the requirement, which is now possible. On the other hand, he said, "the present system captures the interconnectiveness" among disciplines, which should be preserved.
As for developing a role in the communication requirement initiative, Professor Child said, "I feel confident the committee will propose a system where HASS fulfills its communication requirement responsibilities without sacrificing the educational goals and mission of the HASS curriculum."
Besides Professor Child, members of the committee are Associate Professor Dennis Adams, head of the Visual Arts Program; Alice Amsden, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Political Economy in Urban Studies and Planning; Professor Peter S. Donaldson, head ofliterature; Merton C. Flemings, the Toyota Professor of Material Science and Engineering; Assistant Professor Edward J. Hall of linguistics and philosophy; Associate Professor Elizabeth A. Wood of history; Megan L. Hepler, a senior double-majoring in physics and brain and cognitive sciences; and Dr. Bette Davis, coordinator of the HASS office (ex officio).
A version of this article appeared in the April 7, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 25).