Faculty pass proposals for 6-4 SB and 6-14 MEng programs, set to begin this fall

April faculty meeting also includes presentations on graduate advising, Indigenous history of MIT, 6-4 MASc, and Edgerton Award recipient

Members of the faculty heard presentations on graduate advising and mentoring, a new proposal to establish a Master of Applied Science in Artificial Intelligence and Decision-Making (MASc), the Indigenous history of MIT, and the Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award at the April 20 faculty meeting. Faculty also voted on proposals to require digital thesis submission, to establish a Bachelor of Science (SB) degree in Artificial Intelligence and Decision-Making (6-4), and to establish a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree in Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science (6-14).

Originally presented at the March faculty meetings, the three proposals all passed via a simple majority vote. Thus, the 6-4 SB and 6-14 MEng programs will be offered to students by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science beginning Fall 2022. Additionally, theses will now be submitted in a digital format rather than hardcopy.

Associate Provost Tim Jamison and Professor Paula Hammond PhD ’93, co-chairs of the ad hoc committee on graduate advising and mentoring, presented the findings of the committee.

Charged by the refinement and implementation committee for graduate student advising and mentoring of Task Force 2021 and Beyond, the committee consists of graduate students, faculty from each school, and staff and was asked to develop a strategic plan to guide policies to support excellence in graduate student advising and mentoring.

The committee determined three main approaches to enhance mentoring and advising practices: establishing a center for advising and mentoring to provide faculty, thesis supervisors, and graduate student resources for professional skill development; creating a constructive and fair structured feedback system of evaluation yielding both quantitative and narrative data; and preventing negative experiences as much as possible and addressing promptly when they occur with appropriate transitional funding and reporting mechanisms.

The committee plans to release a draft of its strategic plan to the MIT community in the next week, in order to receive feedback and make revisions before submitting the final plan to Institute leadership at the end of the spring semester.

Professors Aleksander Madry PhD ’11 and Pablo Parrilo presented their proposal for a MASc degree in 6-4. Motivated by the establishment of the new 6-4 SB program, the MASc would introduce artificial intelligence and decision making concepts to a larger audience.

Rather than limit the 6-4 major to MIT students — resulting in delayed impact as only undergraduates may access the material — the 6-4 MASc would consist of two parts, one offered online as an MITx MicroMasters program and one offered residentially at MIT for around 20 applicants who receive the MicroMasters credentials. The MicroMasters component would consist of 48 units of online courses and the on-campus component would be one semester of 48 units at MIT. Students would next be required to spend a spring or summer semester taking an approved internship or research project to apply their knowledge and to produce a report akin to a thesis.

The MASc degree would require students to engage with social and ethical responsibilities of computing for at least 4 hours during the course.

The 6-4 MASc degree will be voted on at the May faculty meeting.

Faculty also heard a presentation from Alvin Harvey SM ’20, a student in 21H.283 (Indigenous History of MIT). Harvey presented his research from the class, followed by a short question and answer session with faculty members including a panel of colleagues from 21H.283.

Harvey said that the class “came to understand the immoral acts that established MIT as a land grant university, … , MIT’s corporate and intellectual investment in the genocide of Indigenous people, MIT’s transaction of Indigenous bodies, and the intentional erasure of Indigenous presence at MIT.”

Harvey described how the Morrill Land Grant College Acts of 1862 and 1890 enabled the establishment of institutes of higher education in Massachusetts, including MIT, and how land taken from Native American people has continued to fund MIT in the last two centuries.

Harvey said that “MIT has an obligation to support Indigenous people and students as a member of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU)” and “a responsibility to uphold the APLU’s statement of land acknowledgement” by providing opportunities for Native American students and “working to appropriately and respectfully serve as ready and willing partners to help address their challenges and needs.”

APLU members should “share and continue to learn from the history of Native Americans whose lives, traditions, and cultures are inexorably linked to their own history,” Harvey said.

Harvey asked that faculty “make the changes necessary to repair the relationship with Indigenous people” as “intellectual leaders at MIT.” 

Harvey also cited existing work to support the Indigenous community at MIT, such as the establishment of Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an Institute holiday, the creation of designated spaces for Indigenous students, classes like 21H.283 where Indigenous history is studied, the adoption of Indigenous research methodologies. Harvey then suggested potential future work, including hiring of more tenure track Native American faculty members, building connections with the Wampanoag and the Massachusetts tribes, and collaborating with MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives to engage with Indigenous populations. 

Faculty expressed their appreciation for Harvey’s presentation by writing messages of thanks in the Zoom chat.

Professor Rafi Segal, member of the Edgerton Award Selection Committee announced the recipient of the 2021–22 Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award, which recognizes outstanding non-tenured members of the faculty. Anthropology Professor Amy Moran-Thomas received the award.

Moran-Thomas is a medical anthropologist who researches ties between human and environmental health, focusing on health disparities. She “stands out in this field by bringing a humanistic approach into dialogue with environmental and science studies to investigate how bodily health is shaped by social well-being at the community level and further conditioned by localized planetary imbalances,” Segal said. In addition to publishing essays and books, performing research, and teaching, Moran-Thomas is a member of MIT’s climate action advisory committee and involved with efforts related to social and ethical responsibilities of computing at the Schwarzman College of Computing.