Faculty Approved HASS GIR Changes; Proposals To Science GIRs Rejected

More changes to the core curriculum, known as the General Institute Requirements (GIRs) are in order. At the faculty meeting last May, the proposed changes to the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) requirement passed, restructuring the HASS categories and simplifying the HASS requirement. The changes to the science portion of the curriculum went up for a vote at a special February faculty meeting and did not pass. Dean of Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings SM ’78 and Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support Diana Henderson updated the status of the changes at the October faculty meeting.

The new HASS system would contain three categories — Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences — as opposed to the five categories currently in place. Students would be required take one class from each of the three new categories, replacing the current HASS-D requirement, where students take one class from three of the five existing categories. The HASS-D designation thus would also disappear. The Communication Requirement and the requirement for a concentration within HASS would remain the same. The timeline for the implementation of these changes is under development.

Dean Hastings noted that student reaction to this simplification has been positive, and that the changes would have little financial impact on MIT overall.

“I do not believe that there are overall financial implications to restructuring, [but] there may be some internal resource shifts,” he said.

“First-Year Focus” classes — freshman-oriented HASS classes designed to have an interdisciplinary approach — were in preliminary implementation and testing at the time of the release of Interim Report of the Educational Commons Subcommittee, originally tasked with restructuring the GIRs, last year. More of these classes were suggested in the report and approved at the faculty meeting.

The science portion of the proposal was less successful than the HASS proposals, receiving a majority vote of 81 to 69 but not the required three-fifths majority to pass. Failed proposals discussed in the interim report last fall included “flavors” of required classes and “foundational” GIRs. Flavors would have been versions of science GIRs geared to incorporate discipline-specific examples that would allow students to gain a better background within their field, similar to the variety of classes offered to fulfill the chemistry and biology GIRs.

“The [idea] was to extend the biology and chemistry models to the other science GIRs,” said Hastings.

Foundational GIRs would have served as 6- or 12-unit prerequisites for different departments to allow students to explore and gain knowledge in those fields prior to taking classes within the departments, such as linear algebra, computation, and differential equations.

Dean Hastings noted at the October faculty meeting that less drastic changes to the science core would still be considered, such as with adding different topics and applications in Calculus and Differential Equations.

Currently, there are several categories of GIRs: Science, Lab, Restricted Electives in Science and Technology (REST), and HASS. Outlined within the science category are the courses that fulfill this requirement: chemistry (3.091 and 5.11x), physics (8.01x and 8.02x), biology (7.01x), and calculus (18.01x and 18.02x). A 12 unit laboratory requirement must also be fulfilled. Students must take 2 REST classes, along with 8 HASS classes, which include 4 Communication-Intensive classes.