News Briefs

New Energy Minor, HASS Changes Proposed at Faculty Meeting

MIT will offer an energy minor this fall, pending faculty vote on a interdisciplinary council to govern the new minor. The energy minor will require six subjects, including one in each of three categories: energy science, the social science of energy, and energy technology and engineering.

Nine new energy courses will be introduced next year, including 12.340 “Global Warming Science,” 15.031J “Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies,” and STS.032 “Energy, Environment, and Society.” Additional graduate subjects will be adapted for undergraduates, including 22.081J “Sustainable Energy” and 11.168, “Enabling an Energy Efficient Society.”

Despite Institute-wide budget cuts, the minor has garnered enough funds to support curriculum development for “at least two years” according to Donald R. Lessard, a Sloan School professor and co-chair of the Energy Education Task Force that developed the minor. Alumni donations, in particular, have been crucial to supporting the minor, said Lessard. “We are finding an extreme amount of interest from alumni in support of this endeavor,” he said. In addition, the Deans of Science and Engineering will support three teaching assistantships for the new energy classes.

Whereas all existing minors at MIT are administered by a single academic unit, the Energy Education Task Force felt the energy minor needed representation from every school. They have proposed that the minor be governed by an Inter-School Educational Council, composed of one associate dean from each of MIT’s five schools, the dean of undergraduate education, and one associate provost. Lessard said this structure came out of “a philosophical and pragmatic sense that the minor should be Institute-wide and maintain a deep engagement from every school,” while at the same time having someone with clear responsibility for it. An additional eight faculty members will be responsible for overseeing the minor’s curriculum.

A motion to approve the Inter-School Educational Council was brought to Wednesday’s faculty meeting. The faculty will vote on the new minor and Inter-School Educational Council on May 20. While for now, the energy minor would be the only program overseen by the Inter-School Educational Council, new minors in other subjects such as sustainability and globalization might be developed to use the same structure.

Vladimir Bulović, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and co-chair of the Energy Education Task Force, said, “The primary objective [of the minor] is well-versed students. We want to give students an opportunity to focus their course of study in a direction that is well-defined toward energy … [and] establish an energy commons that brings students together from different disciplines.”

In a survey conducted in Feb. 2009, 236 freshmen and sophomores said there were “very interested” or “extremely interested” in an energy minor.

—Natasha Plotkin

New Proposal Will Simplify HASS Requirements

The faculty moved to simplify the humanities, arts, and social sciences requirement at the faculty meeting on Wednesday. The motion, if passed, will eliminate the current humanities, arts, and social sciences distribution (HASS-D) requirement and require students to take one course from each of the humanities, arts, and social sciences categories.

The HASS concentration requirement will remain the same.

All humanities, arts, and social sciences courses will be categorized by a new subcommittee of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program that will oversee the new requirement.

The motion, if approved by the faculty, would affect incoming freshmen starting in 2010 or 2011. The Committee on the Undergraduate Program has not yet decided whether or not upperclassmen would be allowed to choose between the old and new HASS requirements when the new system is in place.

The change aims to make the HASS requirement easier to understand and administrate. It would eliminate redundancies between the HASS-D and communications intensive requirements for subjects in the humanities. The current HASS system requires students to take one subject from each of three of the humanity distribution categories.

Wednesday’s motion to change the HASS requirement is almost identical to a proposal that was rejected by faculty in February to reconfigure the General Institute Requirements. Originally, the plan was presented as a package deal, consisting of both engineering and humanities requirements. The Committee on the Undergraduate Program decided to separate the HASS part from the proposal and present it separately because it had garnered widespread support from both faculty and students.

The faculty will vote on this HASS proposal at next month’s faculty meeting on May 20.

—Natasha Plotkin