MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVII No. 1
September/October 2004
Welcome Aboard President-elect Hockfield!
The Management of the MIT Endowment
Affirming Freedom of Expression at MIT
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Preliminary Position of the Faculty Policy Committee on Faculty Governance
Developing Musical Structures:
A Reflective Practicuum
Work of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, 2003 – 2004
Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons
Some Reflections on Aspects of the Undergraduate Education Policy
Benefit Changes for Faculty
Upon Retirement
Short Takes
Establishing Leadership in the Emerging Field of Engineering Systems
Concerto for Erhu and Subway
Spaces, Software, and Services –
Supporting Educational Innovation and Sustainability with Technology
Web Accessibility:
What Faculty Should Know
What Was it Like Working with OCW?
Printable Version

Work of the Committee on the Undergraduate
Program, 2003 – 2004

J. Mark Schuster

The Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) oversees the undergraduate academic program, particularly the freshman year and interdepartmental programs. CUP pays particular attention to long-term initiatives and policies. It is responsible for encouraging experimental innovation in undergraduate educational policy and has the authority to approve and supervise limited educational experiments. This authority extends to granting exceptions to the Rules and Regulations of the MIT Faculty in order to facilitate such experiments.

CUP works closely with the Committee on Curricula (CoC) and the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC), and together these three committees make up the core skeleton of the faculty governance structure. The work of these committees is not often visible to the full faculty, but the decisions that they make impact us all. That is why I am taking this opportunity to give the faculty an update on the work undertaken by CUP during the 2003-2004 academic year.

Last year's CUP agenda focused on four main topics: reviewing two CUP-licensed experiments that were reaching the end of their trial period; considering proposals from two new undergraduate programs that have requested temporary devices to restrict enrollment; monitoring the implementation of various changes in the undergraduate program; and working with the Committee on Student Life (CSL) to articulate new guidelines for the advising and mentoring of upper-class students.

Review of CUP-Licensed Experiments

When CUP authorizes an educational experiment, it does so for a limited length of time and the experiment is subjected to periodic reviews by the Committee as to its promise and success. In 2003-2004, two educational initiatives came to the end of their experimental periods: the Special Freshman Program in Media Arts and Sciences and III-C, the experimental undergraduate major in Archaeology and Materials.

The Special Freshman Program in Media Arts and Sciences

The Special Freshman Program in Media Arts and Sciences (MAS) was designed to offer freshmen a hands-on experience inside the Media Lab, which does not offer an undergraduate major. This program had been run, since it was established in 1998, as an experimental alternative freshman program endorsed by CUP. During the 2003-2004 academic year, CUP took a close look at the track record of the program to determine whether the committee would endorse permanent status.

CUP discussed the MAS program over the course of several meetings, during which reservations were expressed concerning the coherence of the student experience in the program and the lack of available data about and from participants. Members of CUP had some lingering concerns over the quality of the experience offered by the program, and there was a feeling that the program had not done enough to ensure its separate identity as an alternative freshman program.

MAS was asked to address these concerns through a clearer articulation of the goals and objectives of the program, development of a more coherent fall academic program for participants, and an outline of how its success will be monitored. MAS has since presented a plan to CUP, which includes improved use of Freshman Advisory Seminars, greater visibility for MAS.110 (the core fall subject, which is now approved as a communication-intensive HASS subject [CI-H] and a HASS elective), and clearer articulation of the role of UROP placements in this program.

As a result, CUP has endorsed permanent status for the program, but it also believes that the MAS Freshman Program should be reviewed in the context of all the alternative freshman programs. Thus, CUP has recommended to the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons that it articulate criteria and guidelines for alternative freshman programs as part of its deliberations. Once such criteria are articulated, CUP would then review the MAS Freshman Program and all other alternative freshman programs accordingly.

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S. B. Degree in Archaeology and Materials

On rare occasions, CUP has taken the responsibility for authorizing experimental majors; the undergraduate programs in Comparative Media Studies and in Archaeology and Materials are the most recent examples. In 2003-2004, CUP undertook a review of the experimental undergraduate major in Archaeology and Materials (III-C) – the first to be informed by the Guidelines for the Approval of New Undergraduate Programs endorsed by the faculty in spring 2003.

CUP determined that, over the duration of this educational experiment, III-C had evolved into an innovative and vibrant undergraduate program with committed faculty and excellent students. III-C has all the hallmarks of a successful program of the sort that CUP would like to encourage. Accordingly, at the May 2004 faculty meeting, CUP introduced a motion to make the S. B. in Archaeology and Materials a permanent major. The final vote on this motion was taken and passed at the September 15, 2004 faculty meeting.

Because the III-C program has raised several issues that have been under discussion for some time, some further explanation of CUP's endorsement is in order. One of the original criteria articulated by CUP for evaluating the success of III-C was the number of students enrolled in the major. The committee no longer considers this criterion to be determinative. By endorsing III-C, it is not the intent of CUP to divert attention from the size of proposed programs, but to assert that the number of majors is not the only indicator of relevance. Overall enrollment in the subjects associated with this program has been substantial and continuing, and the HASS concentration has been markedly successful.

In the committee's deliberations, other criteria emerged as relevant in assessing the quality of the program, and they are the basis for CUP's recommendation that the program be made permanent. In particular, the III-C program has made a commitment to teaching students about the origins of the disciplines that it incorporates. This merging of the social sciences, humanities, science, and engineering within a single curriculum is something that the CUP has long favored and encouraged.

Temporary Restrictions on Enrollments

During the 2003-2004 academic year, CUP received proposals to limit temporarily enrollments in two new academic programs: the minor in Management and a major in Biological Engineering.

Minor in Management

The Sloan School has been developing a proposal for an undergraduate minor in Management. The proposal will be brought to the Committee on Curricula early in fall 2004. The expectation is that when it is launched in fall 2005, this minor will become an attractive option for undergraduates across the Institute, but there is a great deal of uncertainty as to what the actual demand will be. Consequently, Sloan has been working with CUP to develop a rationing mechanism that could be used to ease the transition into the new minor. Thus, while the minor in Management is being proposed as a permanent program, Sloan has asked CUP to authorize a rationing mechanism on a transitional (experimental) basis, and the committee has endorsed the plan to use a lottery integrated into the existing Sloan bidding process to allocate space in the minor. The first such lottery will take place in spring 2005 and may continue for up to four years.

S. B. Degree in Biological Engineering

The Biological Engineering Division is developing a proposal for an undergraduate major in Biological Engineering. It, too, is concerned about the potential volume of students who might declare Biological Engineering as their major. CUP has had several discussions with the faculty who are developing this program, and it has become clear that the most important binding constraint is laboratory space for required subjects. CUP has advised the Biological Engineering Division as to what forms of allocation might be acceptable, and a final proposal is pending.

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Changes in the Undergraduate Program

CUP is responsible for overseeing changes in the undergraduate program, particularly in the General Institute Requirements. Recently, CUP has been called on to monitor the roll-out of the new Communication Requirement, the experiment with the sophomore Exploratory Subject option, and changes to spring-term grading for freshmen.

Responsibility for day-to-day oversight of the Communication Requirement falls to the CUP's Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement ( SOCR ). Over the past three years, SOCR has been particularly involved with the approval of CI-M subjects, those communication-intensive subjects that are offered as part of every major. There is considerable variation as to how departments implement this component of the requirement, and SOCR is working to make sure that this variation is sensible and appropriate to the disciplines.

2003-04 was the second year since spring-term freshman grading changed from Pass/No Record to A, B, C/No Record. CUP has been monitoring the impact of these changes in detail, but it is too early to tell how they have been received either by the faculty or students.

Linked to the changes in freshman grading has been an experiment allowing sophomores to designate one subject each semester as "Exploratory." While there were some start-up issues linked to the roll-out of the Exploratory option, 289 sophomores chose to designate one of their subjects as Exploratory in the fall (ultimately, 64 of these students opted to convert the subject to Listener status), and 320 designated an Exploratory subject in the spring (with some 34 conversions to Listener status to date).

CUP will continue to monitor all of these changes in the coming year, particularly as more data become available as to their success (or failure).

Advising and Mentoring

Over the past several years, CUP has had a number of conversations concerning the quality of undergraduate advising and mentoring. CUP members are concerned about the relatively low number of faculty involved in freshman advising in general, and in Freshman Advisor Seminars in particular. We are also concerned about the quality of advising of upper-class students once they declare their majors. These concerns are shared by the Committee on Student Life, and the two groups have been developing a series of recommendations that we hope to present to the faculty this fall. We will also be coordinating this work with the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons.

It is my hope that these comments have made the work of CUP a bit more transparent to our faculty colleagues. As chair of CUP, I urge any faculty member who has an idea or a concern relating to the work of our committee to contact me directly at:

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