Worcester Polytechnic Institute

A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers - Part One


The President's Planning Group would emphasize that the following areas are of importance in understanding the functioning of WPI at the present time; there are factors in each of these areas that should be accounted for in determining the feasibility of any long-term goal of the college:

A.The Alumnus
B.The Student Applicant
C.The Undergraduate Student
D.Graduate Study
E.The Campus Resources
F.The Faculty
G.The Administrative Structure and Decision-Making
H.Research at WPI
I.WPI and The Greater Worcester Community
J.WPI and the Academic World
K.WPI and Industry
L.WPI and Society at Large
M.Thee Public Image of WPI
N.The Financial Status of WPI
O.The Two Tower Tradition

A. The Alumnus

While WPI does not produce very many outstanding alumni, it is an exaggeration for WPI facts, a widely circulated publication of the College, to suggest that there have been no outstanding alumni since the Class of '08. The WPI alumnus generally does not rise above a middle-management position; his top capacity seems to be chief engineer in a medium-sized company. There are some outstanding exceptions to the general pattern; the school frequently fails to publicize their achievements, and these exceptional men do not often seem to identify their success with WPI. As a result, many of these people give little financial support to the college. Very few of them send, or attempt to send,their children to WPI.

The average alumnus is conservative, sincere, honest, and hardworking. He is not particularly distinguished by communicative skills, and his interests are relatively narrow (1). He wants Tech to remain as it was when he was here; he often seems indifferent to the recent changes in the campus and the curriculum. While he may support the college to the extent of his ability, he had no interest in a carefully-planned alumni continuing education program announced for Commencement Week, 1969. The alumni as a group, however, do supply fifteen of the thirty-five members of the College's Board of Trustees.

Today's average student may not become an alumnus too much different from his earlier counterpart. Many possible leaders for industry, education and society could be stimulated much more than they are now in their undergraduate programs here so that they would strive for high goals in their careers.

The image of the WPI graduate is not changing. Company executives who employ large numbers of WPI graduates have little different to say about them in 1969 than they did in 1963. It would seem that the WPI graduate is still sought for "hardware" jobs more often than for jobs requiring theoretical thought. The employer reports that the WPI graduate is less adept in some areas than graduates of some of the other private Eastern colleges.

WPI's reputation in industry is based on the technical competence of its graduates, particularly in design and development engineering, not in the leadership of its graduates in theoretical fields or in high level administrative posts.

The college now takes a large responsibility for the graduate's first employment search, and the Institute does an exceptionally fine job in this undertaking. There is less coordinated assistance to the graduate who wishes to pursue graduate study and seek university or national fellowships.

B. The Student Applicant

The past history and reputation of WPI as a top-flight trade school cannot be ignored in the consideration of the student applicant. Guidance counselors and secondary school teachers have a decided opinion regarding the College's previous attitude toward engineering and toward the type of positions our alumni now hold in industry.

Conversations with guidance counselors and perusal of application forms indicate that the student applicant is usually one whose secondary school record in science and mathematics has been considerably above average, although seldom exceptional; but whose record in English, foreign languages and the social studies has often left something to be desired. The applicant scores well on the Math section and adequately on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. The applicant often reports that he likes "to work with his hands" and is interested in practical engineering more than in theoretical research in science or technology. Until very recently most applicants were not contemplating graduate study.

Some factors about the competition WPI faces in admissions can be seen from the replies of one hundred students who have been accepted for early admission in 1969 and had selected WPI as their first choice of colleges. These men would have listed one of the following schools as their second choice in the following order of preference: University of Massachusetts, Northeastern, Lowell, RPI, MIT, University of Connecticut. When WPI is a second choice of an applicant, his first preference tends to be MIT, RPI, Tufts, Case, Lehigh or Carnegie-Mellon.

Another important matter in defining the applicant to WPI is the financial and educational background of his family. A significant proportion of our students come from families of modest means, where both parents have little formal education beyond the secondary level. The student often has chosen engineering primarily for the earning potential of such a career and only secondarily for his interest in engineering per se. The applicant does not usually appear interested in social problems or in the concerns of the liberal arts and sciences, but there is increasing evidence that we are underestimating the number of interests and talents that the applicant has.

In recent years, an increasing number of applicants have chosen WPI because of its departments in science and mathematics, and now a few are starting to apply in order to enroll in the unique program in Humanities Technology, Economics-Technology, Business-Technology or the other new interdisciplinary programs.

WPI has been fortunate in maintaining and advancing the quality of its applicant in spite of some additional difficulties. Financial-aid funds available to the WPI student are woefully small, while tuition is much higher than at the engineering colleges of the state universities. The budget for admissions recruiting has not been large enough to maintain a nation-wide secondary school visitation program, and until recently not many of the faculty have been aware that the Dean of Admissions needs assistance in defining what kind of applicant we now want. A severe need exists, for example, to define standards for the increasing number of transfer applicants and to provide guidance regarding the admission of the disadvantaged student.

Finally, in discussing the student applicant, it is important to remember that WPI is in many ways an unhappy victim of its geographic location. The current student body, like all before it, comes mainly from New England. In fact, it was not until six years ago that less than fifty percent of the undergraduates came from Massachusetts. Many superior students from New England, at the same time, have often ignored the possibility of WPI in favor of the more prestigious MIT or Brown, each less than fifty miles away. To complicate matters further, neighboring New York State, with its large student population, contributes a disappointingly small number of applicants, partly as a result of a good number of quality engineering faculties in its many colleges and universities and partly because of the substantial Regents Scholarship program requiring attendance at institutions within the state.

C. The Undergraduate Student

In spite of the rather negative impression one receives in analyzing the applicant for admission to WPI, there are some fine features about the undergraduate student at the Institute. One of the most encouraging signs about him is that he is becoming more articulate in his evaluation of himself and of his education here. One student wrote recently:

"We Techmen have few original ideas. Our compulsive conformism, expressed by our fraternities, coupled with our ultraconservatism, inhibits the type of freely investigating spirit that was the driving force behind the development of the scientific method. Not many of us can really express ourselves in a free manner. Nor are we encouraged toward this end by our free-manner contemporaries or our professors. Be safe. Go by the book. Some people get really turned on by being introduced to new ideas and by learning to think in unfamiliar ways. Not many of them go to Tech." Perhaps some other recent comments by students about their college assist us in better comprehending the present undergraduate: "Is the school committed to education or to technical training?" "There should be more crossing of department lines." "Some English courses are taught with far more care and imagination, even to engineering students, than are crucial engineering and science courses." "WPI needs even more independent projects for the undergraduates." "So often even theoretical material is 'dished out' of the textbook." "Tech has not faced up to its responsibility in helping to educate more black Americans." "Why do we not have more open-book exams?" "What student center there now is needs a host or hostess to keep it going." "Required ROTC is probably a hindrance to good applications." "Many labs are still geared to 'cookbook' procedures." "Teaching faculty are not yet playing a large enough role in directing the educational matters of the school."

"Many students would like a freer flow of students to and from the other Worcester colleges."

Such student comment shows us that some of our undergraduates are intellectually alive and perhaps more eager to face new challenges than the college has expected, but as of yet the goal of the average WPI undergraduate seems to be rather vague. When asked about his goal in life, he would probably say he wants "to be successful, influence a few people, and be able to do as I please most of the time."

Some faculty members are not optimistic about the school's being able to change the attitudes of this kind of student. They would point out that he is cultivated to be non-idealistic, is stimulated to look forward to getting the highest possible starting salary in some field or other and not to dare think of much beyond that and a rather quick marriage. There is a definite pattern in the undergraduate's attitudes which prescribes that he not get too involved academically, not too involved in fraternity life or in campus political or social life. The Peace Corps or other programs where technological graduates are needed are generally scorned by the WPI undergraduate.

The undergraduate here hesitates to compete for the outstanding university and national fellowships. One colleague does counsel that when the new curriculum becomes better established and more of the faculty begin to think of the undergraduate as a "lamp to be lit" and not as a "bucket to be filled", we can expect more vitality and idealism from our graduates.

More effective counselling of the undergraduate might also contribute to his maturation. The freshman faculty advisor system is potentially a good one, but should be re-enforced with a sufficient battery of placement and psychological tests and measurements to assist the advisor in seeing more objectively the strengths and weaknesses of his advisees. The advisor could contribute more effectively if the Committee on Students' Academic Standing published regular reports of their decisions, if there were a formal procedure for communication between the freshman advisor and the new departmental advisor after the freshman has selected a degree department.

The freshman himself would further benefit if he could be certain that his dormitory counselor would be a graduate student or a mature member of the senior class. At the present time some counselors are on probation themselves; some others seem to be rather immature members of the junior class.

Finally, if an undergraduate at the present time has a minor or catastrophic psychiatric problem, he will find the psychiatric reference system at WPI dangerously inadequate. Furthermore there should be an adequate de-briefing and counselling procedure for the undergraduate suspended from the college.

D. Graduate Study

From a glance at the college catalogue, one cannot help but draw the conclusion that WPI's graduate program, like Topsy, "just growed". The catalogue lists a total of 187 graduate courses, and there are a total of 207 students registered for the current term. However, most of the courses are offered every fourth term. In the current semester 68 courses are offered of which 48 involve classroom work. If the average graduate student takes three classroom courses per term, the average enrollment per course is 12.94. This estimate is on the high side, but if the program is to be economical, the figure should be 20 students per course.

Table I

Study Areas Graduate Courses Listed
Thermodynamics and Statistical Thermodynamics CM561, CM562, ME541, ME542,ME641, ME585, ME5471 (7 courses)
Fluid Mechanics (not including gas dynamics) CM574, ME546 (part), ME561, ME562, ME5621, ME563, ME571, ME573, PH512 (9 courses)
Mass and Energy Transfer CM571, CM572, ME546 (part), ME547 (four courses)
Quantum Mechanics CH551, CH553, PH514, PH515, PH616, PH666 (6 courses)
Statistical Mechanics CH552, ME642, PH522 (3 courses in 3 departments)
Applied Mathematics CM504, EE518, EE543 (?), EE501, EE584, MA509, MA510, MA507, MA508, PH501, PH502 (11 courses)
Solid State CH554, EE561, PH554 (3 courses in 3 departments)

There is another aspect to the graduate study situation which is shown in Table V, where the graduate courses listed for seven areas are shown. Such multiplicity may indicate a lack of overall direction, departmental provincialism, slanting the needs of a course to the needs of a specific department or degree, or a combination of all three. One would think that some consolidation is possible.

The full intellectual development of the graduate student, particularly for Ph.D. students, would be enhanced markedly by a program of minors separate from the major field. It would be interesting if a Ph.D. graduate knew something about philosophy.

It is clear that a small graduate program is fantastically expensive to operate when it is based on formal class presentation. Directed self-study is a possibility.

In discussions of the graduate program at WPI one often hears the statement, "We need the graduate program in order to attract the staff required to maintain quality in the undergraduate program." Traditionally, graduate study has separated the scholars from the students. Recently, however, social pressure is forcing graduate work more and more to be an extension of undergraduate work, and this has ramifications for WPI

If graduate work is for scholars only, then the course offerings should be scholarly. Such courses require preparation far different from that of undergraduate courses, and it is unrealistic to expect a staff member to be current in more than one or, in exceptional cases, two areas. Many of our staff now teach graduate courses in more than one area, which seems inconsistent with the requirements of scholarship

If graduate course work is to be an extension of undergraduate work, then it is unlikely that it will satisfy the objective of attracting the desired staff. Further, it is unreasonable to expect the students attracted to such a program to make a significant contribution to research activity. In this case WPI would have to depend almost entirely on its Ph.D. program for the research necessary to enhance its reputation in the academic community (see section II.H.).

It appears that the graduate study objectives of the school are ill-defined, the overall administration of the program is weak, and there is far too little interchange of information among the faculty offering the various courses.

E. The Campus Resources

There has not been time for a full evaluation of the resources of the campus, an evaluation that must be made subsequently. Our present facilities are designed specifically for traditional educational procedures. Three areas should, however, be mentioned here.

One of the very positive statements one hears about WPI concerns its physical plant. Parents of prospective students comment on the quality of maintenance of our buildings and grounds and on the courtesy of all of our staff. These are important, positive assets of which we should all be aware.

A second campus resource which should be considered thoroughly is the Library. We have an excellent facility and the nucleus of a good staff. A library is not just a collection of books to be loaned; it is a learning center, an integral part of the educational process. Fox this reason it is imperative that the library staff be kept closely informed as to changes in educational policy in general and curriculum in particular. These matters should be reflected in the Library's book and journal budget. The American Library Association recommends that an average of five percent of the overall operating budget of the school should be devoted to the Library's annual expenditures (not including filling in the collection). In addition, the professional staff of the Library, if they are to be professional, must be a part of the educational process and not isolated from the faculty. Faculty status for the professional staff of the Library should be seriously considered.

A third campus resource which can be mentioned now is the facilities for physical education, including the staff of the Department of Physical Education. Of all departments visited by the Planning Group, only Physical Education has supplied a clearly defined set of departmental objectives. The image of the school presented in the intercollegiate competition, the high percentage of students participating, and the program of "carry-over" sports are all positive aspects of the program which justify the fine new facility.

F. The Faculty

It is difficult, if not impossible, to analyze precisely the quality of the faculty of any school. Some aspects of the successful teacher or research scholar and of his contribution to a colIege over a long period of time defy analysis. One of the attributes of a member of the academic community is a certain kind of independence that is often more valuable to the enterprises of the community than objective measurements may ever record. An educational community needs the researcher and scholar; the teacher and tutor and counselor; the administrator and the committeeman; the old experienced professor with his fixed idea as well as the young inexperienced man with his.

In spite of the difficulty of thoroughly analyzing faculty quality, the small college must constantly apply what objective measurements it can. In contrast to the large university where specialization in many disciplines can well be afforded and where competition is likely to be keen in all areas, it is a life and death matter whether the small college maintains a balance of specialists and generalists and standards of quality appropriate to the college's goals.

The informed community outside WPI can only measure our faculty strength by looking at the academic credentials, research productivity, and the quality of our graduates. Both research and graduate achievement are discussed in other sections of this report. The reader may decide that WPI is not as strong as it might be in either of these areas of judgment.

It is appropriate and necessary here to show some facts about the percentages of doctoral degrees earned by WPI faculty in relationship to total faculty of this College.

The awarding by a prestigious university of the highest earned degree to a scholar is a sign that that man has examined the "cutting edge" of his discipline and that he has assumed the rights and responsibilities of furthering knowledge of his field. WPI is not as strong as it should be in the proportion of its members with such earned doctor's degrees as compared with other private colleges of engineering and science and with divisions of engineering and science in good universities. Furthermore, as the importance of the Ph.D. for engineering has increased, the number of faculty doctorates in the engineering departments at WPI has not increased as much as it might have.

Sixty-seven, or forty-six percent, of the one hundred forty seven full-time faculty employed by the College hold earned doctorates. Of the science and mathematics faculty, sixty-three percent hold an earned doctorate. Only forty-eight percent of the engineering faculty here hold the earned doctorate compared with the approximately eighty percent of the engineering faculty at RPI. Only twenty-seven percent of the humanities or social studies faculty at WPI are Ph.D.'s. (2,3).

Those who know the WPI faculty well are aware that there is outstanding teaching and research and engineering development accomplished here without regard to the doctoral criterion. Some observers outside WPI, however, have assumed from these statistics, from the lack of vigorous exchange of truly outstanding research scholars from such schools as MIT, from the evidence of excessive imbreeding of WPI degree-holders in three engineering departments, and from the fact that neither the Board of Trustees nor the individual departments appear to depend upon distinguished visiting scholars to judge the quality of our operations, that there is really not as healthy flow of ideas and high standards into this College from outside as there should be.

Using quite different criteria, some observers on the WPI campus itself have found three categories of faculty members among those concerned for the welfare of the school. The first category would include our colleagues who are basically research-oriented, loyal first to their disciplines, interested particularly in the student who responds to their field and wishes to proceed into graduate study to undertake that discipline himself. The second category might include those of our colleagues devoted to a better WPI who wish to do competent innovative teaching in their own field and to encourage the students to develop to their full capacities by attempting to show them the relationships of their field to the other disciplines. This group has provided much of the research and motivation that has led to recent Institute-wide innovations in curriculum, faculty participation and interdisciplinary experiment. The third category would include our colleagues, devoted to the school, to their technical specialty and to a formula of teaching and Institute structure which would produce a practical, reliable engineer ready to go to work in industry. Such approximate categories would probably overlap, and members of each might be found in every degree and non-degree department.

In recent weeks a number of faculty members and others have contributed to the Planning Group formal and informal comments about the WPI faculty and faculty life; perhaps a few of these diverse comments provide a suitable conclusion to this partial analysis: "The WPI faculty are a more exciting group than either alumni or students, but even the best of them are going stale because of heavy teaching loads, insufficient time for reading and research, no center for conversation with other faculty members, and no sabbatical leave policy." "Generally speaking there is a lack of intellectual excitement and curiosity expressed by WPI faculty members." "WPI appears to have few men whose stature is seen beyond New England." "Some of the Humanities or Social Studies areas are staffed to handle the new minors programs but not the new majors programs." "There are no negro faculty members." "The lack of a faculty lounge or faculty club seriously limits a vital life here, now that the faculty is so much larger." "Little news gets to WPI from the rest of the academic world." "Most of the faculty choose to live out of town. The quality of campus life and of Worcester's already weak cultural and political life is furthered weakened by their absence.'' "Professional members of the staff who perform educational functions in the Library and at Alden labs and elsewhere do not all have faculty rank at present." "WPI faculty would benefit greatly from much more interaction with the faculty of the other Worcester colleges and with the faculty of other New England colleges."

G. The Administrative Structure and Decision-Making

In establishing a long-term plan for WPI, attention will need to be given to precisely where responsibility and accountability will lie for various types of decisions. Several questions come immediately to mind: What matters should the Board of Trustees give primary attention to? What decisions belong solely to the President of the College? What decisions and accountability should be delegated to other specific administrative officers so as not to burden the President with trivial matters? What decision-making and accountability belong to the teaching faculty? What decisions and accountability belong to the students?

Some members of the faculty and administration believe, rightly or wrongly, that the present Board of Trustees have not been as vigorous as they might have been in supplying the President of the College with the financial contacts he has needed for his development programs. These observers suggest that a Board with a larger percentage of non-alumni and with greater collective professional and geographical breadth than the present Board has, might help provide the President with a wider variety of development contacts.

In the Spring of 1968, when for the first time they elected a committee of their own, the faculty as a whole finally began to assume their professional responsibilities in studying and recommending to the administration possible educational policy. Several recently elected committees of the faculty have functioned more efficiently than some of the traditionally appointed committees because they knew from whom they received their mandate and to whom they were accountable for their study or proposal.

It would seem that such faculty responsibility should be encouraged and developed. An educational policy which has been developed and ironed out by a committee responsible to the teaching faculty, then approved by the faculty as a whole, will generally be carried out with enthusiasm when it comes time to administer it.

If the faculty can be encouraged to assume such responsibility, the President of the College can be relieved of the necessity of worrying about educational details. At the same time, the administrative heads could be relieved somewhat of their presently impossible role of teaching, representing their department, administering their department and of being asked to determine Institute-wide policy.

Perhaps a majority of the faculty now think that the rigid departmental structure is restricting educational and research development within the college. They would welcome an administrative structure which would allow more flexibility while still maintaining the integrity and quality of individual disciplines.

At any rate, in a collegiate body morale is highest when an officer, committee or individual knows whether he is clearly responsible for a policy or decision, or whether he is clearly designated only to advise regarding a decision. Academic people generally appreciate being consulted as much as possible in the formulation of educational policy. Morale is reduced when they first learn of a crucial educational decision by having a neighbor point it out in the city paper, such as was the case with the Trustees' decision to admit women students and with their announcement on student law and order. In contrast, the efforts made by this administration of WPI to keep the teaching faculty informed have been widely appreciated.

H. Research at WPI

Research activity at those schools generally recognized as leaders in technical education began to flourish in the 1930's. A recommendation (circa 1940) for increased research activity from a committee of WPI faculty, headed by Professor Merriam, apparently was rejected. The foresight of the research oriented schools permitted them to make vital contributions to the nation during World War II, thus establishing a reputation so that they subsequently became leaders in the government-sponsored research boom during the two decades following World War II. In contrast, WPI apparently did little to encourage its faculty to undertake research, although the administration did not actively discourage such pursuits.

With the arrival of President Bronwell, the research picture at WPI began to change. Expansion in enrollment resulted in hiring of additional faculty and attempts were made to secure new staff who had research interests. However, Institute policy did not provide time released from teaching duties for research. While this was at least partly justified by a desire to avoid the problems of the "Research Professorship", it meant that those of the faculty who did obtain research grants were forced to execute those obligations by working overtime as compared with their colleagues. During President Storke's tenure the administration continued to encourage research by the faculty, adding further impetus by the introduction of the "released time" concept and the hiring of a director to aid in co-ordinating the work. It is important, however, that in the opinion Of most faculty, current teaching loads, applied equally to all faculty, are too heavy to permit scholarly study and research. Nevertheless,both sponsored and unsponsored research have grown rapidly in the past decade.

In spite of the increased emphasis on research by the administration, the school in general does not seem to have used its salary and promotion prerogatives to encourage research. Indeed, consistent methods for evaluating faculty in any respect seem to be lacking - every faculty member seems to have the potential for becoming a full professor regardless of his commitment to the intellectual reputation of the college.

While the faculty of the main campus were arguing over the research call, the Alden Research Laboratory was continuing to build a strong international reputation in the field of practical hydraulics. Today the Laboratory enjoys a reputation wider than that of the school itself. Curiously enough, in spite of the purported research emphasis on the main campus of the Institute, the Alden Laboratory has not been able to expand into fields allied to its main thrust. Many students and faculty pass their entire career hardly aware of the Laboratory's existence. The reasons for this situation need careful examination, both in terms of the Laboratory's relationship to the educational mission of the school and in terms of the administration of the laboratory by the school.

The present state of research at the Institute is much better than that obtaining ten years ago. Table II shows figures on sponsored research for the fiscal year 1968 (4). A comparison with other schools (5), (data for 1967) is shown in Table III. While arguments against the premise in Table III are too obvious to include here, it is clear that WPI is far behind its competition in the area of sponsored research by its teaching faculty. Further, while it might be argued that scholarly study and unsponsored research would modify the picture considerably in favor of WPI, one cannot help but think that scholarly study and research would result in publication of some kind, and the recent publication record of WPI faculty is not outstanding.

Finally, the costs of the Institute's research efforts must be examined thoroughly. It is a popular misconception that the school can realize a profit from sponsored research activity. It is true that sponsored research can decrease the cost of research which is going to be done anyway and can raise the level of the research effort. If one recognizes that grants do not bear the entire cost of the research (cost-sharing), proper maintenance of the position of the Alden Research Laboratory requires salary support when contract funding is low, and a fair amount of unsponsored work must be done before sponsorship is possible, the notion of making a profit from research is quickly dispelled. Research is a necessary activity of the school; it brings the best in staff and students to the campus; it results in upgrading of facilities; it keeps the faculty alive to changes in their fields. Research is the epitome of the educational process - learning. It is not directly a profitable undertaking, but the added gloss on the school's reputation attracts other support.

Table II: Sponsored Research at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1968)

Area No. of Sponsored Projects No. of Faculty Involved No. of Faculty in area Expenditures on Sponsored Projects
Chemical Engineering 8 4 9 $135,258
Chemistry 5 5 12 30,450
Civil Eng. 5 3 11 82,536
Electrical Eng. 3 3 17 33,310
Mat'ls Eng. 1 1 3 453
Mechanical Eng. 6 3-4 23 67,294
Physics 2 2 20 50,123
Alden Res. Lab. 54 977,000
Total $1,376,424

Table III: Sponsored Research at Several Schools

School No. of Engineering Faculty Sponsored Research Expenditure($xlO~3) Sponsored Research Expenditure($/faculty)
Cal Inst. Tech 82 2,522 30,600
Carnegie-Mellon 139 1,942 14,000
Case-Western Res 92 3,616 39,300
Clarkson Coll. Tech. 53 223 4,200
Illinois Inst. Tech. 100 1,000 10,000
Lehigh U. 93 2,135 23,000
Mass. Inst. Tech. 386 12,960 33,500
Rensselaer Poly. Inst. 113 2,431 21,500
Rose Poly Inst. 32 90 3,900
Stevens Inst. 90 3,408 37,800
Worces. Poly. Inst. 103 319 3,100(Alden excluded)
8,700(Alden included)
U. of Conn. 76 540 7,100
U. of Mass. 90 465 5,170
U. of Rhode Island 64 298 4,650

I. WPI and the Greater Worcester Community

The status of WPI in the community is a study in paradoxes. This is somewhat understandable if we consider the wide diversity of attitudes in the area and the lack of an educational direction adopted by the College.

In the Worcester academic community, WPI occupies a high position. It must be remembered, however, that only Clark University represents a private non-sectarian college against which most people measure us. In this measurement, many of the academic community at our sister institutions would rate WPI second: there is a tendency for academicians to regard engineers as quasi-professionals; our faculty has not been noted for its research or publications; and the comparative cultural life on the two campuses substantiates the general impression of insularity at WPI and the absence of a true intellectual attitude. Our position was even less favorable prior to the construction of Gordon Library. Yet the College has become a leader in the establishment of the Worcester Consortium for Higher Education, and it is clear that it will occupy an important place in any significant educational development originating with this group.

Among the business and industrial elements of the community, WPI is a source of both pride and annoyance. Local industry has looked to the College for its technical and middle-management personnel and for aid in solving production problems by using our faculty as part-time consultants. For example, the decision of the Sprague Electric Company to build a new plant here was made because of the presence of the Institute in Worcester. For a variety of reasons, neither the average Tech student nor the faculty have been spenders in Worcester, so that downtown merchants have not regarded the College as worthy of much support.

The general public is either in awe of WPI or else indifferent to it. WPI is considered a difficult college, offering a sensible program, and not attractive to the hippie generation. It represents an opportunity for improvement in the economic and social status of the children of a large share of the community. Yet, where education is not of paramount concern, local people generally ignore the College. The extent to which this attitude is common to area residents is easily measured by listening to any local radio newscast or by day-to-day perusal of the local newspaper.

In recent years, there has been mounting criticism of WPI's lack of community concern and involvement. Most of the faculty do not live in Worcester, and the varied and important contributions they make in the area towns are often overlooked. The public has generally considered its problems entirely in terms of their socio-economic aspects and has failed to recognize the value of the engineering approach to their possible solution. Consequently, civic leaders have usually turned for help to those colleges having strong sociology, economics and psychology departments and have ignored the valuable potential support here. For too many in Worcester, WPI's two towers appear to be made of ivory--the College seems to have been content to stand on Boynton Hill in solitary isolation. Yet WPI has been a leader in working with the local school department in improving science offerings in the public schools and in helping to establish a meaningful program for the culturally disadvantaged in Worcester.

Finally, WPI has long been regarded with affection by a number of the older prominent Worcester families whose progenitors helped in its establishment. For a few of them there has been an opportunity for devoted service on the Board of Trustees. For all, WPI has been a non-profit organization to which contributions could be made with the assurance that the contribution would not be spent on foolish or experimental projects. Unfortunately, as the community has grown, there has not been a comparable growth in interest on the part of the necessarily larger group of civic, financial and industrial leaders. Many of these have commitments to their own colleges, but they could still be of considerable assistance to us. Some, for example, have expressed regret that WPI has not established an advisory group of prominent local and national individuals, as Clark University has done, to help chart the course of the college. If they were to become involved, the interest engendered might well lead to increased financial support.

J. WPI and the Academic World

The relationship of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute to the academic world is difficult to characterize. The Institute is largely an unknown quantity. In part this is due to the fact that our graduates have not been adept at garnering the tangible symbols of academic or intellectual success (6).

Reaction of the students at the prestige schools to the students at WPI is usually negative. The Worcester Tech student comes from a relatively narrow socio-economic background while the student at the prestige school generally comes from a family of somewhat higher economic and educational attainment. Because of the strong correlation between academic achievement and socio-economic background of the student (7,8), it is not surprising that intellectually the WPI graduate does not match well with graduates of the prestige schools.

Reaction of "educators" may be somewhat different. For example, the Gourman Report (9) is an attempt to rate schools independently by standards deemed valid by educators. Gourman assigns grades (A, B, C, D) to each of several categories and attempts to convert the averages of these to a figure comparable with SAT scores. Two ratings are given for each school, one for administration and one for academic departments. The academic ratings of 34 schools are shown in Table IV In our judgment, assignment of a tolerance of - 25 points to the figures is not unreasonable. In any case, it is clear that WPI fares pretty well. (Gourman's rating of our administration is less complimentary.) It should be noted that for WPI, only the engineering and science departments were rated. For M.I.T. and R.P.I. other departments were included, which lowered their rating considerably.

Table IV

Gourman Academic Institution Rating Gourman Academic Institution Rating
Harvard University 787 U.S. Naval Academy 568
Dartmouth 731 Poly. Inst. Brooklyn 557
Cal Inst. Tech. 709 Newark Coll of Eng. 520
Mass. Inst. Tech. 664 Illinois Inst. Tech. 507
Oberlin 650 Lehigh U. 500
Carnegie-Mellon 636 Pratt Institute 500
Haverford 611 Trinity 484
Wesleyan 609 Middlebury 482
Swarthmore 608 Harvey Mudd 473
U. of Rochester 606 Clarkson Col. Tech. 467
Amherst 600 Texas Tech. 460
U.S. Military Academy 600 University of Mass. 458
Worcester Polytechnic Inst. 600 Lowell Tech. Inst. 422
Case-Western Res. 600 Drexel Inst. Tech. 412
Stevens Inst. 578 Rochester Inst. Tech. 400
Tufts 578 Virginia Poly. Inst. 400
Rensselaer Pol. Inst. 570 Northeastern U. 393

Other academic people tend to rate schools by the performance of the faculty either in creating new knowledge or in developing new instructional techniques. Here WPI fares rather badly, being generally regarded as a glorified trade school. One academician recently called our faculty "undistinguished", and others have said "WPI strikes us as not being a very lively place academically." This kind of reaction has a very damaging effect,? for graduate students choose schools with the help of their professors. In consequence, WPI does not get the best graduate students, and since good graduate work goes with good staff, WPI is unable to attract the best faculty. Even our own faculty recognize our low appraisal by the academic community, for in briefing sessions with the various departments we have heard a plea for "changing the name of the school." The claim is that because of our name we are considered a trade school. Faculty and student achievement in academic areas could obviate the need for a change of name.

K. WPI and Industry

Industry is obviously a major element of our society. The relationship between an engineering school and industry is fairly direct. The school looks to industry to a considerable extent for its change and need patterns which must feed back into curriculum and teaching improvements. Industry looks primarily to schools like WPI for its engineers and managers. Most technical (and some other) schools look to industry to defray a part of the deficit between tuition and costs -- a deficit which is advantageous to the users of technical manpower.

There is also cooperative effort between schools and industry 1) in industrial problem-solving through consulting or sponsored research, 2) in academic problem-solving through industrial support, 3) via membership on Boards of Trustees, 4) in sponsoring of chairs, lectures and off-campus semesters. Large companies tend to involve themselves in all or many of these activities. Smaller companies are necessarily limited to activities which can be entered into with modest financial outlay.

In our College's primary service area, New England and especially central Massachusetts, the tradition of the small firm is well established. Those which have become parts of larger combinations tend to operate still in their local communities much as small firms do. There are of course a number of relatively larger firms. Tech alumni or faculty have been instrumental in founding or expanding some of both types.

The College has recently established an "Associates Program" with industries to further mutually beneficial relationships. There are at present 23 industrial members of this grouping who make specified financial contributions to the school annually and who will (in addition to participating in direct support) have privileged access to consultants and facilities. It is the intention of the College to expand this program to include many more companies and to broaden the areas of cooperation.

While WPI will always want the financial support of industry, other relationships will in the future depend on the goal of the college. For example, were the school to emphasize a four-year technological degree, then work-study programs with industry would be indicated. On the other hand, were the college to promote theoretical, pre-graduate studies, our relationship with industry would focus on cooperative research.

L. WPI and Society at Large

Neither WPI curricula nor campus life seem adequate for informing students about modern problems or how the students must soon be participating in solving them. Perhaps we are lulled to some extent by the type of students we have -- students who have often not thought deeply or felt deeply about the lesions in society, students whose parents may have passed on to them a feeling that everything is going to come out about as it always has if they simply work hard and patiently at yesterday's daily tasks.

Problems of social interrelation and change affect all levels -world, nation, region, municipality. New England itself, which is the source of most of our students and the place where our influence will be most felt, has already undergone successful revolution in some areas (for instance, replacing textiles with electronics). It seems woefully behind in others and will presumably be involved heavily in change of all kinds from now on. Worcester is in a similar situation, the old mixing with the new, the changed with the need for change.

Throughout the world change is assuming an ever more cramping and frenetic pace. In the process we are losing a surprising amount of individual freedom of action. There arise two diametrically opposed reactions: first, the intense apathy of the majority coupled with the extremisms of the zealous minority; second, an effort to comprehend and control everything by all-encompassing thought and planning.

Those reacting in the first manner abandon old standards without thought of what will take their place; there is a tendency to strike out in all directions -- C.P. Snow's "sleep of reason." Those reacting in the second manner respond to these new challenges with "systems" thinking, involving all facets of society's problems,including the social and psychological. This response appears in various guises, from Whiz Kids in the Pentagon to curricula in operations research and courses in systems theory, from faculty planning groups to efforts to computerize decision making.

In these times, WPI is, in the opinion of many, being forced to change in order to survive. But it would also seem that the College may have an unusual opportunity deliberately to change itself and then contribute leadership to the needed and inevitable changes in the region and beyond. It may even be; that WPI can contribute significantly to the changes in technologically-oriented education.

M. The Public Image of WPI

Many people on the campus believe that WPI's public image, both within and without Worcester, is very much oriented to the past. A recent advertisement in a national magazine emphasized John Boynton's horse-andbuggy and WPI's trade-school tradition. A revolutionary aeronautical discovery recently announced on the front page of the Sunday edition of The New York Times failed to identify the inventor with WPI -- his alma mater. In Boston, Providence, Hartford or Springfield, even WPI's past history is often not known, and one must usually respond to a "Worcester--what?"

The public image of the College is still not helped as much as it could be by the College Catalog, which is almost as difficult to read as is the Massachusetts State Income Tax form. WPI facts gives an even less encouraging picture of the College, since it suggests that all outstanding alumni graduated before 1910, that the faculty is undistinguished, that military training, fraternities and sports are of much greater concern here than academic and research pursuits.

The public image cannot be the praise or blame of any one office of the Institute. There have been failures at many levels of Institute life which mar the many fine courtesies of this school. The good publicity which the new curriculum had received in secondary school circles was almost obliterated in one hour when high school guidance counselors were invited to a briefing on the new curriculum, only to discover that the freshman advisors had not been given an opportunity to iron out some of its confusing aspects.

Fortunately the school's image is bright and clear in some areas. Many visitors comment on the well-kept campus and on the friendliness of the buildings and grounds staff. One recruiter who employes a number of our seniors has just reported to the College that no placement office he visits knows as much about the personal attributes of its students as does our own. Many detailed matters, such as the reporting of student accomplishments to home-town newspapers, are handled well by the Public Relations Office. There are, from time to time, interesting feature articles in the Worcester papers about the school and its past, but there is much of value about WPI still to be projected beyond Worcester County. Here our alumni, our students, our faculty and our athletic teams are our assets.

N. The Financial Status of WPI

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute, along with the rest of the private sector in higher education, is faced with a serious financial problem, the solution to which depends on the future fiscal policies of the federal government The concept that income from endowment can be used to operate a school is fast disappearing. Thirty years ago, for example, it was possible for a school to adopt the policy that income from tuition could be expected to pay salaries,and income from endowment could be expected to maintain the physical plant. The effects of inflation and the growth of public education have since forced a change.

In an effort to get some picture of WPI's relative financial position, the data of Table IV (10,11) have been assembled. The figures are subject to some uncertainty because of varying accounting methods and fiscal year variations, but they form an interesting set.

From the data in Table IV it appears that Rose, Drexel, M.I.T., Lehigh, and Clarkson and, probably, Case-Western Reserve, among the technical schools, have abandoned the concept of having endowment make a significant contribution to the operating costs of the school. W.P.I., R.P.I., Stevens, and Cal. Tech. among the technical schools, and Dartmouth and, probably, Amherst are using endowment income to a significant extent.

We note that endowment per student at WPI has dropped since 1955, meaning that the Institute can afford less and less to rely on income from endowment for support. Stevens Institute and Cal. Tech., on the other hand, have markedly bettered their endowment positions since 1950.

The last column in Table IV, income per student in 1968 as measured in thousands of 1958 dollars, shows that WPI, RPI, and Case-Western Reserve have similar positions. Carnegie-Mellon is not far behind, but it is behind. Stevens Institute and Dartmouth fall into a second group with M.I.T. and Cal. Tech. leading by a considerable margin.

From these data it appears that WPI's current financial position is not less sound than that of its immediate competitors. It is nonetheless apparent that at this point the Institute must make some decision with respect to its financial future. Further increases in enrollment without corresponding increases in (1) endowment, (2) student:staff ratio, or (3) outside income could put the school in a bad position. The first option seems to depend on substantial alumni contributions. The second possibility involves a basic change in our philosophy of education and would require larger classrooms and/or more contact hours per staff member. The third alternative depends on having a unique objective with a strong appeal either to the government, the foundations, or the more progressive industrial giants who have the necessary funds to distribute.

Table IV

Institution Market Value of Endowment per student (thousands of 1958 dollars) Total 1968 Income (as percent of endowment) 1968 Income per Student (thousands of 1958 dollars)
1950 1955 1960 1964 1968
Worc. Poly. Inst. (11) 8.02 16.1 13.62 -- 12.1 30.7 3.73
Clarkson Col. Tech.(11) 2.13 2.97 2.83 -- 1.92 -- --
Rensselaer P. Inst.(10) 7.06 -- -- 9.9 13.7 28.3 3.89
Rose Poly. Inst.(10) 7.98 -- -- 5.5 3.98 39.2 1.56
Stevens Inst. (11) 1.28 5.15 13.6 14.8 19. 44.1 8.38
Lehigh U. (10) 9.57 -- -- 6.24 6.1 42.9 2.62
Drexel Inst. (10) 6.59 -- -- 1.7 1.31 102.3 1.34
Carengie-Mellon (10) 8.85 -- -- 13.5 12.6 24.9 3.03
Case-Western Res. (10) 4.56 -- -- 9.08 8.2 49. 4.02
Cal. Inst. Tech. (10) 24. -- -- 48.9 52.5 29. 15.25
M.I.T. (10) 22.5 -- -- 11.4 23.5 85.6 20.1
Amherst Coll. (11) 16.9 34.1 45.7 -- 49.8 -- --
Dartmouth Coll. (10) 9.57 -- -- 23.4 27.7 23.6 6.54

O. The Two-Tower Tradition

In 1871 Stephen Salisbury II said, referring to our college, "The Institute has a claim to public favor and indulgent consideration because it is the first attempt in our country to combine theoretic knowledge and practical training." For a century this concept has persisted on the campus, and in the minds of those who think of or come in contact with the school. For instance, in a recent survey some employers still felt this combination to be a major element in their Tech employees' success. The concept has undergone major evolution from its original "instruction in the use of tools and machinery" of founder Washburn. Once prevalent 'shop courses' (except for minor vestiges in Mechanical Engineering) have been dropped. Engineering drawing slipped recently from its traditional two-semester required status,first to a single required semester, then to an elective. Surveying is no longer compulsory for Civil Engineering students.

What does this "Two-Tower" tradition mean today -- in a world drastically different in many ways from Washburn's and Salisbury's? In the minds of some, extensive engineering laboratory work is now the "practical" part of a Tech education. But a large part of the student body and some of the faculty profess to see nothing or little relevant in this work, describing it as mostly "cookbook", repetitive, of no interest to what they see themselves doing after graduation. In the minds of others -- possibly including the employers mentioned above -- today's Two-Towers is stress on practical application and 'common sense' attitudes and approaches -- a stress they feel is more effective here than in other engineering schools and engineering divisions of universities. But such an idea is at least nebulous.

Higher education in the 1870's primarily concerned itself with such discip1ines as Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Ancient History, formal Religion, and formal science (then natural philosophy). Modern languages, applied science and applied mathematics were only beginning to appear. So Tech's originaldouble concept was seen then as remedying a common fault -- the irrelevance of collegiate education to most everyday professional pursuits -- particularly for the growing technical and mechanical fields.

Could this same problem be the unifying theme between the 1870's and 1970's? Is the Two-Tower concept still that of making "theoretic knowledge" relevant to the student by "practical training" in its application to today's problems?


(1) "Twenty-fifth Reunion Survey, Class of 1940", WPI, June (1965).
(2) "Certain Statistics Relating to the Faculty", WPI, September 27, 1968.
(3) Catalogue, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1968
(4) Clarke, E.N., personal communication.
(5) "Engineering College Research and Graduate Study", J. Eng. Ed. 58, Feb. (1968)
(6) Jenks, C., and Riesman, D., "The Academic Revolution", p. 8 et seq., Doubleday, Garden City (1968).
(7) Jenks, C., and Riesman, D., ibid, p. 61 et seq.
(8) Coleman, J.S., "Social Climates in High Schools", U.S. Office of Education Co-operative Research Monograph No. 4 (OE-33016) U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington (1961).
(9) Gourman, Jack, "The Gourman Report", 1967-68 ed. The Continuing Education Institute, Phoenix, (1967).
(lO) "The College Blue Book", 6th ed (1950), 11th ed (1965), 12th ed (1968), College Planning Programs Ltd., Los Angeles. (ll) Lloyd, D.E., personal communication.

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