Cosmetic fixes do not address problems

Every few weeks or so, the editorial board of the Technique will sit down to hash out our consensus opinion on some facet of life at Tech. One way or another, we’ll begin discussing how unhappy students generally are, how students can often feel persecuted and how apathetic they can be. We’ll talk about initiatives the administration launch, causes SGA can champion or something else along those lines. Then we’ll come to a consensus on the issue, disband and go back to life.

Sometimes the initiative we discuss comes to life, and sometimes it dies. Either way, I’m never really satisfied, because after four years here, I’ve yet to see anything happen that truly improves the lives of the typical student on the street: not I <3 GT Week, not the Strategic Plan, not even the Farmer’s Market (although I hear the food there is very tasty).

I will grant that these things improve life at the margins, maybe teasing a smile out of a student here or reducing a bit of friction there, but these initiatives are only bandages covering up two broader issues: there aren’t enough women at Tech, and classes are really tough.

I am not a woman, so I can’t really speak to what it feels like to be one of the few woman at Tech, but I can speak as a guy who’s had several very strong female role models during my time here. They’ve taught me more than any academic class, they’ve challenged me to look at problems in new ways and they’ve provided me sound advice and guidance when I’ve needed it. My male role models have been valuable to me, too, but my life would not be as complete today if everyone I looked up to were male.

Every student at Tech, male or female, deserves the chance to have an equal chance of having strong female and male role models. Those people are essential to creating well-rounded graduates ready to enter a 21st century global society. Yet, despite this crucial need, we stand at a point where we take as a triumph a female to male ratio of 38 to 62 in the entering class of 2011. All of this when the ratio of women to men enrolled in college nationally is reversed—57 to 43 in 2009.

My knowledge for why this disparity exists is admittedly limited, and people much smarter than I have researched the issue and come up with a variety of solutions. Whatever the root cause of the problem, fixing the ratio needs to be a priority goal for not only the Institute, but also the state and federal governments.

My feelings on Tech’s academic rigor can be summed up fairly simply: Tech’s tough, get a helmet. It’s callous, but true. Tech’s instructional method is based on the idea that professors push their students to the very limit of what they are capable and then see what sticks. Students don’t often see their professors as partners in learning. To a student who received a 42 percent on that last test after he stayed up all night studying, his professor can be called nothing but an adversary.

That situation is the product of a number of factors, all deeply systemic. Professors are encouraged to focus more on high-quality and prolific research than on undergraduate instruction. The teaching of science and engineering lends itself to the brutal rule of the normal curve. More than all of that, though, is the deep tradition fighting against coddling student or demanding anything but what is beyond their very best.

There are obvious negative effects of students receiving 42’s on every test. They often feel like their professors don’t care about their success. This spawns the common attitude that they don’t graduate—implying a rise to a higher plane—so much as “get out”—calling to mind prison escapes.

Those effects are temporary, though, and altogether a pretty good deal: four years of suffering for 40 of success. I’ve laid out the two big obstructions to a blissful life at Tech: the lack of women and the overabundance of academic pain. Students can do little to fix these problems in the short term, although I applaud their efforts to improve life at the margins. Even the administration has little power to improve these problems.

For women, only through work for broader societal change can true progress be made. For the tough academic path Tech student’s walk, the acceptance of their lot in life is the only true solution. Everything else is but an attempt to twist and turn around the curves the Institute throw at students—admirable, but ultimately futile for the average Tech student.