Chancellor discusses future of education with students

Around 50 undergraduate students gathered Wednesday evening to brainstorm the future of MIT’s education at an event hosted by the UA Committee on Education with Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88.

Barnhart has spent the past few weeks meeting with small groups of faculty and students to seek feedback on the priorities for the Office of the Chancellor over the next five years. In an email on Tuesday, Barnhart floated the idea of developing a new position in her office, the Vice Chancellor for Education. She is currently seeking recommendations for faculty member candidates from students.

The focus of Wednesday’s forum was to discuss the purpose of a university education and the bold experiments that MIT could run over the next five years. Barnhart said she realized MIT might not be so great at enacting change, but that her office was trying its best.

Students shared a wide variety of ideas for how to improve MIT, such as using the Socratic method in lectures, ensuring students engage with the local Cambridge community, and transforming the current culture of stress into one of intrinsic motivation. One group of students even introduced the possibility of giving everyone in some classes the same final grade.

Students said they enjoyed MIT’s current culture of collaboration, emphasis on student governance, and diversity in the student body. They also discussed the purpose of obtaining a university education, for which many reasons were given. Some focused on career development and critical thinking skills, while others emphasized personal growth and areas such as social justice.

After the discussions, Barnhart said that many of the students’ comments were similar to what she has been hearing from faculty.

Barnhart will be hosting another forum for graduate students Feb. 15. She also said at the forum that students who have more ideas should sign up online for her office hours.