A Freshman Looks Back

The Key Elements to a Great Education Remain Strong at MIT

It’s always easy to complain about things. For some reason, humans have the amazing innate ability to hone in on the bad and neglect the good. And at a place like MIT, it’s especially easy to fall into that trap. The rigor of the courses, problem sets, and tests coupled with everything MIT has to offer inside and out of the classroom contribute to the hybrid nature of our unofficial motto, “IHTFP.” Immortalized on every class ring, it is often a cry of frustration (at least mentally) and sometimes invoked as a term of endearment (e.g. “I Have Truly Found Paradise”). It can even be both simultaneously. But whether or not you have ever, or ever will think of MIT as “paradise,” we sometimes forget amidst the dining failures, sports cuts, and housing issues that this place does a lot of things right.

First, MIT is not in the business of giving out degrees on silver platters. The frenzied and obsessive nature of the modern college admissions quest makes getting in seem like the hardest battle, but I’m glad MIT has kept sight on what’s really important — a solid education. MIT has thus far successfully avoided the grade inflation trend sweeping some of the nation’s top schools, and rightfully so. It seems like a no-brainer, but no student is automatically entitled to an A, and MIT “gets” that.

The New York Times reported in February that 30 percent of students expect a B for simply going to class. Two-thirds claimed that if they spoke to a professor and indicated that they were “trying hard,” it should be factored into the grade. MIT professors are happy to reward hard work, but only if it is tangibly demonstrated. Other schools would be wise to buck the grade inflation trend and emulate MIT — here, grades are a function of a student’s performance.

Outside the classroom, this year has given MIT students a great opportunity to stand up for what they believe in. The release of the Blue Ribbon dining recommendations and subsequent release of the final report itself gave us an opportunity to showcase the kind of independent initiative that Admissions looked for when we were accepted into MIT. Instead of complacently accepting the decisions passed down from the administrations, we made our discontent heard, and, more importantly, brought new suggestions and proposals to the table. I was glad to see evidence that MIT students aren’t the type to merely identify a problem, complain about it, and let somebody else deal with it. Rather, we’re the type to actually do something constructive and bring something new to the table. You don’t see a lot of that in the American media or American government, and I’m relieved to see that attitude in force at a place like MIT.

MIT’s “we’re here to save the world” ethos is an extension of that kind of constructive attitude. Whether or not you agree that our “Green Energy” or cancer-curing initiatives will truly end up saving the planet, there’s something to be said for promoting a culture of optimism. As Dr. Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy mentioned in his presentation in 10-250 last month, it’s worth the time and money to let scientists run with their ideas. MIT should ensure that it remains committed to supporting faculty and student research regardless of the perceived “practicality” of that endeavor.

If you asked other freshmen, they might have given you a very different set of things they like about MIT. And that’s a testament to my final point — MIT’s diversity. It’s cliché, but important. In an academic and social sense, the range of cultures, countries, and backgrounds represented at MIT contribute to the spectrum of ideas and perspectives that are so valuable to research and learning. Despite the transient and circumstantial flaws of particular administrations, the fact that the Institute can cater so well to such a diverse array of individuals confirms that the worthy ideas at the core of the university remain strong.