As the Institute continues its drive to develop a strategic plan for the next 25 years, the discussion should focus on how to develop an intellectual community with an atmosphere that encourages debate and enhances the flow of ideas across all disciplines.
Much of the conversation thus far at the town halls and during the “Days of Engagement” has been focused on creating smaller class sizes, incorporating more technology in the classroom and standardizing course content and grading schemes. While these improvements would be a step in the right direction, these initiatives alone will not make Tech a global leader for education in the 21st century.
When compared with peer institutions, Tech students lack opportunities to expand their knowledge beyond their major and engage in vigorous debates surrounding issues that affect the nation and the world. In order to provide such opportunities to students, the plan must focus on creating an “intellectual community,” where students are able to explore topics from outside their major and engage in a debate of ideas across all disciplines.
One of the ways to create such a community is to develop a lecture series whereby the Institute hosts influential speakers from a wide variety of fields, including politics and world affairs. This will mark a huge shift in the attitudes of the student body towards challenges and issues facing our generation and create dialogue as to how to solve those problems.
The most common theme in the reactions of students following Gen. Petraeus’ speech two weeks ago was that they wished there were more high-profile speakers on campus. Receiving an update on Afghanistan from the CENTCOM commander was much more illuminating than hearing about it during class.
Several weeks ago the Provost’s Task Force for Intellectual Community (PTFIC) submitted a bill totaling $60,000 to SGA to host a high profile speaker on campus. Despite my belief, and that of my peers, that such an event is exactly what the Institute needs in order to garner a reputation for intellectual diversity, SGA representatives failed the bill. While I strongly disagree with the decision, I understand why SGA was apprehensive to fund such a large amount to a committee that had little financial backing from the Institute.
For the long term, the Institute must take sweeping action in order to develop an intellectual community that can grow and sustain itself. Tech must shed its reputation as a technological university by definition and embrace fields from the liberal arts. Furthermore, the Institute must find a way to make these fields available to students from across different majors, and make it easier for students to explore them using free electives or pursue minors.
During college, students must be able to experience personal development, as well as professional development. In my experience, Tech has outsourced the former to extracurricular activities, on which most students have limited time to spend. Students should be able to explore courses that they feel are necessary to their personal development, such as public speaking and economics, while also focusing on their professional courses.
Expanding the liberal arts program at Tech will do multiple things towards developing an intellectual community. First, the Institute can draw from a more diverse pool of applicants, thereby increasing the intellectual diversity of the student body. Furthermore, this expansion will enhance interaction between students majoring in technological fields and other students pursuing a career in liberal arts.
Finally, it will also allow students to explore their interests and receive an education that equips them not only for their job, but also serves them well in their career and throughout life. In choosing a dean for the Ivan Allen College, the Institute must select a candidate who understands the role the IAC can play in enriching campus life and education across disciplines.
Overall, the town hall meetings and events geared towards the strategic planning have been well attended. Still there is more room for student input. Many of the recurring themes such as smaller class sizes and better technology are unfeasible and narrow-minded for such a bold initiative. Despite the fact that the plan aims to implement the ideas by the year 2035, it is a chance for students to leave a lasting impact on the Institute as a whole.