Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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


Part A: Summaries of Possible Objectives

OBJECTIVE 1: To Provide High Quality Pre-Graduate Education in Engineering and Science.

SUMMARY (Discussion in next section)

Advances in the engineering and scientific disciplines in the last quarter century and the concommitant revolution in undergraduate college education have created a situation in which completion of a bachelor's degree program is no longer sufficient formal education for professional engineers and scientists. Few of the country's educational institutions have revised their undergraduate programs to provide superior preparation for the better graduate schools. Therefore, the adoption of the above objective would appear to be a logical extension of WPI's traditional emphasis on undergraduate education into an area still relatively noncompetitive. The program should assist the College in attracting a highly-qualified faculty and in increasing the sources of student applicants, thereby enhancing our reputation and improving the probability of being able to remain a private college.

Part I discusses the premises upon which the desirability of adopting the objective is based. Part II reviews the implications of the adoption of this objective for the College.

OBJECTIVE 2: To Educate for Leadership and Decision-Making in a Technological Society.

SUMMARY (Discussion in next section)

A changing American culture is dramatically affecting the function of the engineer. Engineers are more and more needed as decision-makers at many levels of society in the consideration of technical-social problems. The implications of this change have not been realized by the great majority of engineering colleges. This section discusses the possibilities for WPI to gain national stature by educating engineers to assume positions of leadership and decision-making in our technological society.

OBJECTIVE 3: To Provide a Classical Education in Engineering and Science _ the Oxford-Cambridge Manner.


The objectives of this program would be: (1) to provide a means to enable the student to educate himself; (2) to emphasize the whole man - intellect, physical well-being, sense of purpose, constructive role in society; (3) to permit the student to grow at a rate determined by his background and capability rather than his skill at adapting to a predetermined pattern; and (4) to insure that students and faculty are working toward the same objective. The student must know at the outset that learning is his responsibility.

A vital feature of this program would be the minimal number of formal classes. The student would not be required to master a specific skill at a specified point in his academic career. He would acquire skills as he finds them necessary for his understanding. His objective would be to pass two qualifying examinations drawn up outside the Institute. These would be in (1) mathematics, natural sciences, and humanities, and (2) the student's major field. Students would be attached to a department for examination purposes only.

This program is sufficiently different that it could attract money from the foundations, and, because it is also adaptable to education of the underprivileged, some Federal funds might be available. The program would require a major change in our Library funding, for the Library would become a real learning center. Staff:student ratio might be decreased slightly, and requirements for new equipment would be minimal. The transition to this program from our present program would have to be planned with great care.

OBJECTIVE 4: To Become a Research-Oriented Graduate Center in Engineering and Science

SUMMARY (Discussion in next section)

The transformation of WPI into a research-oriented graduate center would place us in a highly competitive position for attracting the most desirable young faculty. Research results of a dramatic nature would materially enhance the nation-wide reputation of the Institute; the change in image could be a potent attraction for first-class undergraduate students, as well as for the better graduate students. Those staff members involved in teaching undergraduate students might be expected to be conversant with the latest trends in their fields; furthermore, the research equipment available on campus would provide undergraduate students with a glimpse of the "state of the art."

This program could be expected to increase the importance of the undergraduate departmental major at the expense of the interdisciplinary and humanities-technology major. It would also lead to the utilization of many more graduate teaching assistants in the undergraduate program. The research-teaching balance among faculty would vary widely throughout the Institute.

A decision to embark on this program must hinge decisively on our expectations of being able to attract sufficient outside funding and sufficient numbers of quality graduate students.

OBJECTIVE 5: To Become a Middle College


The marked nationwide increase in the number and quality of publicly supported two-year colleges is extending the concept of public education through the sophomore year of college. Concurrently, there has been a rapid rise in graduate school enrollments, reflecting increased emphasis on the need for graduate degrees, particularly in science and engineering.

The transformation of WPI into a middle college appears to be an attractive objective in the light of these changes. The primary academic program, encompassing the course work of both the upperclass years and the master's degree, would have implications of considerable importance to the College. First, the elimination of most basic courses would permit far greater specialization by the faculty, and this should be of material benefit in attracting and maintaining a distinguished staff. Second, there would be a substantial infusion of graduate students at the master's level. As a result, the College should be able to strengthen its Ph.D. program measurably and at a cost far less than a comparable improvement under our present program would entail. Finally, the graduate assistants, now all at a post-master's degree-level, would provide a ready source of instructors for the necessary interface courses, designed to provide careful articulation between the varied preparation of the entering student and the demands of our own curricula.

OBJECTIVE 6: Train Students for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Technology.

SUMMARY (Discussion in next section)

Many colleges of engineering have turned since the 1940's from the training of technologists to an educational pattern more closely allied with the parent sciences of mathematics, chemistry, and physics. There is substantial indication of a more and more serious shortage of qualified technologists. The need for this type of graduate is not now being filled. The two-year schools of technology offer rather superficial technological training, and in many cases they tend to ape the four-year more scientifically oriented engineering and science colleges.

There is much evidence that in the forties WPI did a superb job of training this type of engineer. Since that time a polarization of views has taken place: one group advocating this type of training and another pressing for a more scientific orientation. It would appear that if the decision is made to train technologists,then the Institute has some very major assets.

OBJECTIVE 7: To Specialize in Educating the Underprivileged


A disproportionate number of engineering students have traditionally been drawn from the lower socio-economic classes. The ethnic and racial composition of this class has been undergoing marked change in recent times. The "new" lower class has suffered many social and educational disadvantages not experienced by its predecessors; the entrance of its members into colleges and universities, therefore, entails unique problems and solutions.

An undergraduate education in engineering and science might well have great appeal to the present-day underprivileged because (1) it offers the possibility of personal advancement; (2) it provides skills which could be used to create employment for other disadvantaged persons; (3) it is not founded on ethnically-controversial assumptions; as are many social sciences. The desirability and necessity of educating the disadvantaged has received wide recognition throughout the country; a program specifically designed for this purpose might be capable of attracting considerable amounts of Federal and foundation funds. They would be very necessary, as the program promises to be expensive (full tuition and living expense scholarships).

Unusual curricular flexibility would be required to accommodate the disadvantaged students with their motley backgrounds. Consideration would have to be given to a pre-college program and to expanded summer programs.

The question of maintenance of entrance standards must be carefully explored. We might also anticipate pressure on the humanities and social science departments to design courses more relevant to the background of our student body.

OBJECTIVE 8: To Promote Invention and Entrepreneurship


WPI's truly outstanding graduates have been inventors; they have been ingenious developers of new hardware which could be patented. Many of the present applicants to the College still say they "like to work with their hands and make things." They wish to come to Tech because of our tradition of practical engineering -- a tradition going back to the days of the Washburn shops and to the more recent period when students were not over-encumbered with theoretical courses and could spend more of their time in the shops and labs experimenting with all kinds of devices and gadgets. At present we stultify much potential ingenuity in our undergraduates by not giving them enough time to experiment on their own in developing new machines or processes which if perfected might one day greatly benefit American industry.

If the College were to center its entire undergraduate and graduate program on an interdisciplinary-invention-laboratory-shop, WPI could once again stimulate the latent ingenuity and creativity of many young students who are now imprisoned in theoretical studies which do not appeal to their best talents.

It would no longer be feasible in the school shops to develop products, machinery or processes peculiar to the passing mechanical age, but it would make great sense to emphasize here a spirit of practical experiment in developing the machines and products of the future, utilizing and expanding our present talents, resources and testing facilities.

Would it not be feasible to select some general field, such as robotics or hydraulic or fluidic devices, in which WPI could yet become the national or even international research center?

If invention were to be the chief aim of the college, all instruction would need to center on the shops and labs. Concentration in an area such as robotics would particularly require interdisciplinary cooperation in such areas as computer science, electronics, materials, mechanics, business management, linguistics and sociology. The Alden Reserach labs would, of course, have to become more directly an arm of undergraduate and graduate training than they are now. Resources, both in faculty and equipment, would have to be geared to an emphasis on independent work if such a program in innovative engineering and technology were to flourish.

OBJECTIVE 9: To Transform Ourselves into a General University


This objective is based on several implied assumptions:

(1) New England needs a privately endowed university to satisfy the needs of its population.

(2) There would be added flexibility in the programs offered which would permit engineering and science majors to shift to a liberal arts program (et contra) without changing schools. This would tend to attract more and better-qualified students.

(3) The greater potential for graduate study would attract better qualified faculty.

A thorough study of the needs of the New England industrial complex would be used to determine the nature of the programs offered and thus garner support. Such an objective would require a close alliance with Clark University in order to establish a competitive position with the public universities of the area. Establishing that competitive position would require either a unique educational program or a staff of excellent reputation which would be expensive. Funds for the union of WPI and Clark might be realized from combination of the several duplicated programs in physical education and basic sciences, combination of extra-curricular programs, decreased teaching loads consequent to larger classes, and a broader range of degree programs by combining staffs of the lesser departments in both schools.

The proposed alliance has many difficulties apart from the awkward geographical situation, and it is clear that attainment of excellence in any particular area will not result from combining two poorly qualified groups. Thus, this objective would require the re-structuring of two schools, not one, and there would have to be a detailed study of the logistics of the operation before it could be fully implemented.

OBJECTIVE 10: To Join the State University


Public education has grown dramatically in the past two decades. Only the Northeast, because of its tradition of private education, has not yet felt the full effects of expansion of public higher education. If the pattern here follows that in other states with strong public systems, three major consequences should follow: 1) Free public education through the junior college level will be available; 2) In the state supported four-year colleges, the graduate program will probably shift to the Amherst campus; 3) Many private colleges will become part of the state system.

If the Institute wishes to remain an undergraduate engineering institution, it would be well to consider seriously becoming part of the state system while its financial base and its bargaining power are still strong. Joining the state university would have relatively little effect on the educational mission of the Institute. It would remain a predominantly undergraduate institution, while experiencing a sizeable increase in enrollment.

OBJECTIVE 11: Maintain the Status Quo


OBJECTIVE 12: Appropriate Combination of the Above


Part B: Discussions of Four of the Possible Objectives

OBJECTIVE 1: To Provide High Quality Pre-Graduate Education in Engineering and Science.



To substantiate this premise, it is necessary to review the revolution in undergraduate education in the last thirty years. Prior to 1940, only a relatively small portion of the country's youth attended college. A college education was regarded as a privilege by most Americans. For the wealthy, it was a privilege accorded to the well-to-do, and their children went to college either out of a genuine interest in things academic or because college represented the most genteel form of unemployment. For the remainder, college degrees were opportunities to improve both their economic and social status. It was still possible to be successful in the business community without a college degree (1 ), so that most of those who attended college planned to enter a profession. In summary, those who attained a bachelor's degree were in a distinct minority, and of these, only a small percent represented degrees in either engineering or science (2). A B.S. in either field was a valuable commodity.

The passage of the G.I. Bill at the conclusion of the Second World War served as a catalyst in the transformation of the American attitude toward a college education. Today, America regards this education as the right of every one of its youth (providing they are white), and we have yet to see a significant diminution in the expansion rate of higher education across the country. The release of hundreds of thousands of soldiers at the end of the war, each of whom was given the opportunity for further education with subsidy, ended the privilege concept.

To accommodate the vast horde of students descending upon nearly every campus, the academic community was forced to expand its facilities, both physical and human, and thus began a chain reaction which is still in effect. To maintain their enlarged facilities, colleges and universities actively sought a greater share of the high school graduate market to replace the waning supply of veterans. And as these students entered the employment pool following graduation, it became increasingly important for the individual seeking a position to list a bachelor's degree among his qualifications. This need, in turn, increased the number of admissions applicants at every college.

At the same time that the student explosion was occuring, America was in the midst of another revolution involving both science and engineering. The incredible increase in scientific discovery and technological innovations and improvements was spurred on by the American-Soviet rivalry and by the demands of an affluent society desiring more of the trappings of the "good life." Subjects heretofore the exclusive province of the specialist became part of the bulk of essential knowledge for those entering careers in engineering, the sciences and mathematics. It is worthy of note that few positions have been available for scientists and mathematicians without advanced degrees for some years.

We are thus led to the conclusion that in the areas in which WPI students have specialized, the old currency of a bachelor's degree has been devalued. It is a matter of regret that the proliferation of graduate programs in almost all universities and larger colleges, many of which are of inferior quality, will tend to cheapen graduate degrees, unless they are obtained from our more highly regarded graduate centers. (3).


To begin with, quality education in the areas of engineering and science is costly. Extensive, sophisticated laboratory equipment, a computation facility of some magnitude, and a competent faculty in highly-paid disciplines combine to raise the cost of maintaining worthwhile programs far above the level of comparable programs in the liberal arts.

In the second place, the student explosion has not been without its detrimental effects on the quality of undergraduate education. It has always been difficult to attract good faculty to the campus, particularly in the areas under consideration. To meet the demands of a burgeoning student enrollment, colleges were forced to sweeten the fringe benefits for those they particularly desired and to employ less qualified personnel to supplement their staffs. The most successful of the fringe benefits, at least in terms of attractiveness to prospective faculty, were two: the opportunity to teach in a graduate program, and the opportunity to do research. Both of these are highly desirable in any well-run academic program, but too often, they have been abused. The better teacher has had little to do with the undergraduate student in far too many instances. In particular, the basic courses, most crucial in providing a proper foundation for further study, are usually left to the inexperienced and frequently indifferent graduate assistant for supervision. Moreover, increased student enrollment has virtually eliminated the close personal contact between teacher and pupil--not even the most devoted teacher can give his students the personal attention his counterpart did thirty years ago. Finally, college faculties have bent their efforts to innovations in mass instruction, at the expense of more important innovations in syllabi of the courses themselves. On many campuses, science and engineering courses cover material remarkably similar in content to what their instructors had studied when they were students.

In the last place, not enough has been accomplished in breaking down the barriers between the various departments. As enrollment has increased and faculties have followed, it has been common to house each department in its own building, even on relatively small campuses. Isolation and the continual competition for limited financial support have led to an increase in "empire building." Thus, while the current advances in science and engineering reiterate almost daily the interdependence of these branches of knowledge, those who direct the education of potential engineers and scientists create barriers to keep rival departments away from their charges. It is not uncommon to find essentially the same course taught by several departments on the same campus! Apart from the sheer inefficiency of such a situation is the far more serious loss of interplay between future scholars in these disciplines.

At this stage, it is necessary to consider the cases of the science and mathematics students apart from those majoring in engineering. For many years, the chief sources of superior graduate students in the sciences and mathematics have been the prestige universities and the small, quality liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, Swarthmore, Oberlin, and Reed. These institutions will continue to provide many qualified students in these fields. Yet, in general, they suffer from an important deficiency: their students have little opportunity to study applied courses in their majors. In the case of the small college, such courses are not available; in the university, they are often out of bounds, as it were, since they are offered in the school of engineering rather than the college of arts and sciences. (Departmental rivalries, bad as they may be, are insignificant when compared with university divisional rivalries.)

The engineering student is a different matter altogether. There are relatively few engineering colleges, as such, and the only other source of supply has been the large state university. A few private universities, such as the University of Rochester, may have small engineering departments representing some area of specialty, but the number of engineering graduates is limited. In general, the engineering college has already made its choice: for some, the emphasis is solidly on the graduate program; for the remainder, including WPI, the emphasis has been on an attempt to provide professional training at the bachelor level. In the former instance, the colleges have been quite successful with their graduate and superior undergraduate students. However, they have often failed miserably in developing the capabilities of their more average students, most of whom would have the necessary intelligence and interest to become good engineers, if they could be assisted through the initial complexities of their subjects. In the case of colleges similar to WPI, the attempt to maintain a professional training program fails to recognize the changing attitudes in engineering education. It is impossible to cram all that is necessary into a four-year course of study. Too often, the graduate from such a program comes out a technician, not a professional, or else a confused and insecure engineer, more apt than not to desert his profession in favor of sales or management. Some graduates do go on to further study--the best, to good graduate schools, but by far the greater number, to their own college's graduate school or to a similar program in a similar college.

In summary, then, we can say that the opportunities for the prospective college student to attend a college providing a quality undergraduate program, one that will prepare him for entrance into a good graduate school, are extremely limited, if he wishes to study engineering or science.


A perusal of the appendix section on the analysis of our present student applicants will indicate that WPI has catered to a very special type of student, the youth from a relatively low socio-economic background who has chosen engineering, and occasionally science, as a means of attaining some measure of financial security. It is significant that sons of successful alumni have generally gone elsewhere to college--in many instances to colleges reflecting the improved economic and social status of their fathers. As the student explosion continues unabated, it is highly questionable whether WPI will be able to attract sufficient numbers of students from among those whose parents have attended college, unless

WPI is willing to change its role in the academic community. The college could, of course, continue its present role and serve the black student, who will represent today's typical applicant tomorrow. But the merits of such a role are not germane to the objective under consideration and will be considered elsewhere in our report.

It would seem apparent, if the above analysis has any validity, that WPI must look to a new role sufficiently distinct from its present one to overcome its reputation as a "trade school" and sufficiently interesting to attract able students to its campus. If we now consider the myriad of statistical reports, both public and private, covering America's requirements for qualified engineers and scientists in the foreseeable future, it appears that one role worth careful consideration is that suggested by the title of this section of the report.


There would be few to argue the logic of this premise. Yet the manner in which a college creates and maintains its reputation is not easily analyzed. WPI's current reputation, based almost exclusively on its past performance in producing technically competent, practically oriented engineers, is that of a first-class trade school. This may be attractive to industrial recruiters, but such a reputation does not capture the interest of the investing public. No one would question WPI's need for financial support. If this support is to be forthcoming, however, we shall need an exciting program--one that will attract nationwide attention.

One way of enhancing our image is to develop a program that will attract a distinguished faculty and will produce students able to receive nationally recognized awards such as NSF, Fullbright, Woodrow Wilson fellowships. The above objective would be a step in this direction, for it would attract the type of intellectually capable student who could compete well in the annual fellowship competition, and a faculty qualified to direct such a program would have to be concerned with research in one form or another and would be far more inclined than our present faculty has seemed to be to publish the results of its investigations. And it is precisely these tangible bits of evidence-fellowships and publications--that form the criteria on which most large benefactors of education base their decisions of financial support.

Part II

We now turn our attention to the implications of adopting this objective. Nearly all phases of the campus life will be affected, and some changes will create important problems that must not be ignored. Yet, whether we are discussing this objective or others, the fact remains that if we are to survive, we must take some drastic action.


If our goal is to provide a quality pre-graduate education, then we must be more selective in our admissions procedures. The student who gains entrance to the good graduate school must be capable, not only in his field of specialty, but also in articulation, and he must be able to master sufficient skill in at least one foreign language to pass the required proficiency examinations for graduate study.

It is not necessary that the student enter with a career firmly in mind. What is necessary is that he have demonstrated a capacity to go beyond the ordinary work of the secondary school, either by enrollment in advanced placement courses or honors courses, or by participation in special projects. It will be imperative that we seek those students ranking in the top decile of their secondary school classes and that we broaden our area of supply to include the better secondary schools outside of New England.

This will cost money, for many of these students will require financial support. If the students are selected from schools outside our immediate area, then the support must offset the attractiveness of a less expensive education at a closer state institution. It is essential that this support be given, for we cannot hope to attract enough qualified students who can pay their own way. It will not be sufficient to admit a token group of superior students--they must represent a clear majority if we are to have a quality program. In this connection, it is important to remember that no group of students is more sensitive to the selectivity of a college's admissions procedure than those who are genuinely interested in obtaining the best possible education. Once our reputation is established, it will assist us in maintaining a steady flow of desirable candidates.

During the past year, the Admissions Office has placed increased emphasis on the promotion of the early decision plan. A questionnaire sent to the one hundred forty-nine successful early decision candidates in January 1969 indicates that already we are developing a nucleus of able students, well qualified for a program of the type under consideration. (See Appendix A).

Nevertheless, we cannot hope to find enough qualified students from the area from which our students are generally drawn. We must develop procedures that will permit our Admissions Office to cover a much larger group of secondary schools. We might, for example, employ resident admissions officers in such cities as Chicago and San Francisco, who would be responsible for schools in the northern Midwest and on the West Coast.

The above implies that we would be rejecting applicants heretofore admissible, and it is inevitable that there would be some unhappiness among local secondary school guidance counselors. Yet these people do respect quality and would respond properly if they were given to understand the cause of our changed attitude. With the advent of improved community college facilities throughout New England and the general expansion of the state university systems, it is also questionable whether the more marginal admissions candidate, who has represented a fair portion of our total enrollment, might continue to apply for admission. Indeed, this fact supports our basic contention that we must turn to other programs if we are going to be able to attract sufficient numbers of students to support our faculty and physical plant.


We have already noted that as far as these fields are concerned, graduates have found the way to a scientific career closed unless they were willing to pursue graduate study. As a result, the undergraduate programs in all three departments concerned (chemistry, mathematics, and physics) have been designed to prepare the student for graduate study In this, they have been reasonably successful. ( 4). It is also interesting to note that each of these departments has been involved in a revision of its undergraduate curricula, a revision designed to improve the overall major program. If we are now to emphasize preparation for graduate study, it is incumbent on each of the departments to expand the opportunities for students to engage in independent study, to become involved in small group projects or seminars, and to have greater freedom of choice in course selection at the advanced level.


Our engineering curricula have been based on the premise that the majority of engineering students would seek employment upon graduation. Clearly, the emphasis must change if the majority are to enter graduate school. It will no longer be necessary that the student cover as many different topics within a discipline as he presently does. It would appear logical to provide a standard core of essential courses, beyond which the student could either specialize or not, depending upon his interests and possible uncertainties. In particular, there should be enough flexibility in each student's program so that he could select courses from other departments, either in those areas that might give him additional support for his eventual graduate study, or in other areas that would broaden his general education. Clearly, it is also obvious that, as in the case of science and mathematics, much greater emphasis must be placed on small-group projects and independent study.


If WPI is to provide a quality undergraduate education, then that education must be provided in all departments. Since the departments representing the humanities and social sciences areas have never been given proper support by the College, it is imperative that the attitude toward them be drastically altered. The level of performance in every course in these areas should be no less demanding than the best of the science and engineering courses. The present attitude that our students must be marked on a more lenient basis in these areas cannot be justified; good students respect academic discipline, and where it is lacking, performance and interest will be inferior. The student will regard the weakness of this portion of his academic program as symptomatic of a general weakness in his entire program.

There seems to be agreement by those most concerned with engineering and scientific education that the role of humanities and social sciences must be broadened considerably. There is a need for all of our students to acquire some sense of ethical and sociological values. This sense can be developed best by exposure to the thoughts and writings of others and sharpened by dialogue between students and faculty. There must be good courses in sociology, philosophy, and psychology, for example, as well as increased offerings in the existing humanities and social science departments. We must also provide the opportunity for all students to acquire proficiency in at least one foreign language. If we cannot justify particular classes in French and Russian because of insufficient enrollment, then we should utilize the capabilities of some of our sister institutions in the Worcester Consortium. It is essential, however, that where language courses are taught on this campus, the level of instruction be equivalent to a comparable course in the better liberal arts colleges.


With the "trade school" attitude altogether too prevalent, we have maintained a grading system which may have been easy to administer but which has ignored two essentials of any good educational program. First, it is necessary to consider the type of student whom we should attract: he should be the student who has taken advantage of advanced placement or honors courses in the secondary school. This means in most instances that the student has had considerable freedom in determining his study habits and in selecting special projects which have been of interest to him. For such a student, a grading system which places emphasis on class attendance and on regurgitation of facts supplied by the teacher and text book will not be palatable. Continual attendance in class does not by itself suggest competence; the more intelligent student, able to think and read for himself, might find his interests better served by occasional absence from the classroom. Either the student gets his work done or he doesn't, and this is the only consideration that should be made regarding the effect of absences on a student's grades. Second, we have placed far too much emphasis on the grades themselves, so that the average student has worked for a grade rather than for the knowledge which he might gain by electing the course. Recent surveys of college students have indicated that the better students feel "turned off" by the general emphasis on grades and either leave college or produce desultory performances as an expression of their dislike for the "system." California Institute of Technology, Yale, and a number of small, good liberal arts colleges have embarked on programs involving the extensive use of the pass-fail system. Our hesitancy to embark on anything but a token program in this direction is perhaps the best indication of our lack of confidence in the student body. The more we seek well-qualified students, the greater this problem will become. We should give considerable thought to some form of a pass-fail system which would free the student from unnecessary emphasis on grades, particularly in those areas that would broaden his education or supplement his particular field of interest.


There is no question that the objective under consideration has implications of considerable consequence to the faculty. First, a quality pre-graduate program requires superior teaching. The determination of exactly what constitutes superior teaching in this context must be clearly understood. The teacher must communicate his enthusiasm to the students and create an atmosphere of excitement about his subject that should make them desire to follow in his footsteps. He must lead his students toward greater self-reliance and independent study; this may mean that his lectures do not always give the answers to every problem. There is a need to acquaint students with some of the still un-answered problems which exist in each discipline; occasionally, the instructor should discuss his own research efforts, if only in a general way, so that the student might gain an insight into what constitutes research in that discipline and observe how a highly trained individual approaches the task of solving his own problems. All of this suggests that every instructor be actively involved in some form of research, and to do this, he must be current in his discipline. No staff member can teach, engage in research, and remain conversant with developments in his subject without a considerable reduction in his teaching load.

If we are to attract faculty of high caliber, it will be absolutely essential that our graduate program be vastly improved. The truly professional faculty member would wish the opportunity to be directly involved with his specialty at the graduate level. His relevance to the undergraduate program will be meaningless unless he also is willing to take part in the preparation of undergraduate students. Since each member of the faculty ought to be allowed the opportunity of some specialization, some care must be exercised to insure that the areas of special interest complement rather than duplicate each other. It is essential that in all departments a concerted effort be made to preserve the professional integrity of the staff. By this, we mean that we can no longer assume that a faculty member hired in any discipline should be expected to teach any course offered in that discipline.

A superior undergraduate education, regardless of its emphasis, can brook no compromise with faculty competence. We need faculty who can stir the imagination of their students, who are sensitive to the viewpoints of our youth, who are not afraid to demand a high level of performance at the risk of losing some (temporary) personal popularity, and who are willing to be identified in some measure at least with causes leading to the improvement of human society.

There is little room for the ivory-tower dweller--the better student, vitally concerned with the moral and social problems of our society, needs to find models for his own attitudes from among his teachers.

Finally, since the emphasis of this objective is on the undergraduate program, our teaching staff must strive to improve the dialogue between the disciplines, so that no matter what the student may select as his major, his course program has a cohesiveness instead of the present fragmentation.


WPI is fortunate in the quality of much of its physical facilities; the suggested objective, nevertheless, would require some alterations. Consonant with the increased importance of small-group projects and independent study, there would be a need for a number of small seminar rooms and/or laboratories in every academic building. In addition, there should be an increase in the number of lecture halls, accommodating student groups of various sizes, since some courses could be taught more expeditiously by a combination of lectures and small discussion groups. The incorporation of these ideas in the planning of the proposed humanities building would be essential. Clearly, any new construction and all renovation should include such outlets, conduits and wiring needed for maximum utilization of audio-visual equipment.

It has been stated elsewhere in this report that much of the learning process does not take place in the classroom; this is more apparent if the emphasis in our educational program is placed on greater individual self-reliance. Fortunately, the Library was designed to provide individual study facilities for some six hundred students at any one time. Yet, there is much to be gained by providing an atmosphere conducive to study, as well as to discussion, in the students' living quarters, and here, WPI is not well-equipped. Our dormitories have been singularly unimaginative in design and structurally inadequate to meet the demands of a proper living-study relationship. Small rooms, filled to or beyond reasonable capacity, and a lack of sufficient sound insulation virtually eliminate any hope for constructive study by the residents. The large lounges in the dormitories do not lend themselves to informal discussions by small groups of students, which, given students of some intellectual ability and a proper educational direction by the faculty, form a vital and useful part of learning. Renovation of the existing dormitories to provide small lounges in each section of each floor and better soundproofing may prove costly at this point, but certainly any new dormitory construction should incorporate these features.

By the same token, the faculty needs a facility of its own, containing an interdepartmental commons room, to which the staff may go and be assured of no interference; a dining room, where a more imaginative selection of food than the catering service in Morgan Hall has provided is available; and one or two small lounges for committee meetings, entertaining visiting scholars, and general small group discussions. The need for this facility becomes crucial, if we are to encourage increased interaction between faculty representing different disciplines.


Any change in the undergraduate program will directly affect the role of the Placement Office. While the goal of the College may be to educate its undergraduates for superior graduate schools, there will always be some who will wish to seek employment upon graduation, either for academic or financial reasons, and the Placement Office must be prepared to assist them. Of far greater significance, however, is the fact that an improved faculty and the concommitant improved and enlarged graduate program will mean that the Placement Office will be needed to place an increased number of M.S. candidates and perhaps a few more Ph.D.'s in positions in industry. This should be welcomed by the Office, for the trend toward the M.S. as the first professional degree is well-documented, and it will be increasingly difficult to place B.S. candidates in professional positions in the future.


Mention has been made several times above in this section of the report regarding the need to improve the graduate program, primarily in order to attract and maintain a superior staff. The proposed objective, even though it stresses an undergraduate education, should prove beneficial to our graduate program. (See THE FACULTY above)

Implicit in any plan to improve the graduate program is the need to increase the number and quality of our graduate students. It must be remembered that large numbers of graduate students do not, per se, necessarily guarantee a worthwhile graduate program. It will be absolutely essential, therefore, that the College adopt policies controlling the size of each graduate department's enrollment, so that a proper balance between graduate and undergraduate efforts may be maintained. It will also be necessary for the College to revamp its admissions attitude towards its own alumni. Specifically, great care should be taken to eliminate, in so far as possible, the current practice of admitting our own graduates whose academic strengths are such that admission elsewhere is somewhat doubtful.

The addition of highly-qualified faculty will, of course, help to attract better students. It will probably be necessary, however, to increase graduate student financial support until such time as the faculty is involved in sufficient sponsored research to support a good number of well-qualified graduate assistants. This raises an interesting question regarding the proper utilization of those assistants not actively involved in research projects. An effective way of employing them in a role that would support the undergraduate program is to have them direct small-group projects and seminars for upperclassmen. Here, the graduate assistant can be most effective, for he would bring to the project or seminar his own special interest and some measure of understanding of the current research efforts in that area.

There is another advantage accruing from a good graduate program, one that is particularly pertinent to a quality pre-graduate education. The better seniors in the student body should be given every opportunity of electing courses in their specialty at the beginning graduate level. (Wholesale admission of undergraduates to graduate courses would have the obvious effect of lowering the level of performance for the graduate students.)


The objective of providing a quality pre-graduate program will not be attained without the expenditure of a considerable amount of money; if the program is worthwhile, there is some evidence to suggest that financial support from outside the College resources can be obtained. The most significant increase in expense would represent the increase in the instructional portion of the budget. Specifically, the College must revise its attitude toward a normal teaching load, so that no faculty member would carry more than 9 hours of classroom contact in any semester and most would carry only six such hours, so that they might be engaged in some research activity. It is worth observing that if the current employment registers of the various professional societies are read, many of the better colleges and universities in the country already have teaching loads in this or even less demanding ranges. At first glance, it would appear that such a normal teaching load would require an enlargement of the teaching staff of significant proportions. Yet, and this has been a serious weakness of WPI, a substantial portion of the implied increase can be avoided by really creative thinking in terms of course presentations and the use of instructional aids, both human and mechanical. The recent publicity on student evaluations of courses at various educational institutions across the country have made this fact abundantly clear; some of the most popular courses in terms of their relevance to the students' programs and the amount of knowledge gained from them have been taught on a large lecture basis or some combination of lecture and recitation. Even small liberal arts colleges have realigned their thinking in terms of small class size for every course and now use a wide variation in class sizes, depending upon the subject, the level of the course, and the educational soundness of such a method of presentation. Even with careful consideration given to creating optimum class sizes for the undergraduate courses-where again we emphasize that optimum numbers will vary from course to course--it is obvious that there would be some increase in faculty salary requirements, resulting from an increase in the teaching staff and from the obvious fact that well qualified teachers must be compensated properly. There should be no place in the quality program for the hack teacher, who is willing to spend hours in the classroom at relatively low compensation because he could probably do no better elsewhere.

Furthermore, as we have indicated above, the College must be prepared to supply substantially more scholarship aid to undergraduates, and increased aid to graduates--not so much in the form of additional assistantships, as in more competitively valued assistantships, so that we can compete for the better graduate students. In this respect, the College should be able to turn to the industrial and business communities for greater financial support, since the students we would graduate at both the undergraduate and graduate levels should be more valuable to them.

There is another area where WPI's financial support has been severely limited in the past and where much needs to be done if it is to have a quality program: this is in the area of lectures, colloquia, etc. The calendar of any educational institution with a fine reputation is crowded with such events. It is not necessary that these serve the entire college community, for in general such events, unless they are to be classed in the popular meaning of cultural, would be superficial of necessity. What is necessary is that they occur with enough frequency so that the student comes to realize that we are not an island in the academic sea but rather part of a highly complex, interrelated community, concerned with all types of questions and problems relating to science and engineering. By the same token, the faculty need the constant bombardment of ideas and interests brought to the campus by the lecturers and the opportunity to discuss their own ideas and interests with competent people from outside the campus. In short, the College must be prepared to underwrite an active program of this type.

The acquisition of endowment funds, gifts from foundations, and general contributions is becoming increasingly difficult and certainly more competitive.

We believe that a program of the type discussed in this section would have some appeal to those in a position to support the College. The substantial investor demands quality; more than that, he demands some uniqueness, for he would want his expenditure of funds to provide him with an investment that might not be available to everyone. One has only to look at the specific bequests or gifts made by individual philanthropists to be aware of how often the bequest or gift represents an attempt by the donor to offer something unique in the educational world. Few colleges of engineering have made much of an attempt to provide the type of education we suggest here, and it would seen that in this respect, we have the opportunity of assuming a position of uniqueness that might well prove attractive not only to the students and faculty involved but also to those in a position to give financial support to WPI.


(1) "Who's Who ink America," 1940 Edition.
(2) Table of Degrees Conferred by American Colleges. Biennial Survey of Education in the United States, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1940.
(3) Tables 9 _ 10, The Mathematical Sciences: A Report, National Academy of Sciences, 1968.
(4) A _ 1 Reports of the Placement Office of WPI.

OBJECTIVE 2: To Educate For Leadership and Decision-Making in a Technological Society.


Engineering and Society

At the beginning of this century when engineering colleges, both independent and university-connected, began to flourish in the academic world, it was relatively easy to describe what engineering was. Engineers, drawing upon the specialized scientific disciplines, primarily physics and chemistry, developed and produced the technology required for the industrial growth of society. As a natural result, the curriculum development was narrow and concentrated with a large percentage of structured laboratory experience. Engineering schools from this vocational base were then, and remain to the present, relatively isolated from the liberal arts college. At the independent engineering college, as well as the university-connected engineering school, the arts and humanities provided a distinctly vocational service, e.g. report writing, ethics of engineering, industrial psychology. The Grinter (1) report of the fifties, and other reports,recognized a need for broader education of the engineer. However, into the sixties this contact of the engineering student with the humanities and social sciences has had the strong flavor of psychology for the engineer, literature for the engineer, etc.

On the university campus the engineering college is for the most part physically separate, and at some universities the engineering students have separate dormitory facilities. It is also well documented that because of a generally heavier class schedule than students in other disciplines, as well as the attitudes of the faculty, the engineering student has had little extracurricular and cultural contact with other segments of the academic community. Because of the role played by engineers in society during the period from 1900 until the Second World War, this relative isolation seemed not to present serious problems in terms of fulfilling the goals of engineering education. The students and the profession were vocationally oriented, and society's needs were amply met by increasing numbers of such students.

However, since the 1940's three crucial changes in American culture have resulted in conditions not fully recognized or understood by the engineering profession.

1) An expanding economy has given rise to a generation of young people, many of whom find vocational goals distinctly secondary to moral and ethical concerns. This trend is expected to continue (2).
2) The exponential rise of the production of knowledge in the natural sciences has forced the engineer to develop radical new technology at an ever accelerating rate.
3) The growth of scientific technology has become increasingly intertwined with the social problems of mankind. The boundaries between social and technical problems have been largely erased.

These three fundamental changes drastically affect the concept of engineering; they alter the very nature of the things engineers do; they demand a new type of engineering student. Today the engineer stands at the interface between the development of knowledge and the needs of society. In order to interpret these needs, he must draw upon more disciplines than in the past, biology, philosophy, political science, psychology, sociology, and anthropology; with this knowledge he must identify and solve important problems of the age. Ours is a technological society, and social decisions must be made in large measure on technological bases. That the engineering success of the automobile also brought detrimental effects to society (air pollution, transportation failure, urban blight) should make clear the needed change in the role of the engineer. Such a role is clearly quite different from that fostered by our current engineering curricula.

If one accepts the concept of today's engineer as "the mediator between knowledge and society," (3), then the role of the engineer should be an increasingly vital and exciting one in our culture. He should be the "competent generalist," the "problem solver," the "decision maker" within a broader spectrum of his environment than in the past. He must accept as part of his task the definition of the consequences of technological advances. That is, he must understand the ecology of man.

Within our society then, with its needs for broad understanding of technology, one would expect the engineering school to be burgeoning with staff and students. This is not the case. Instead, in the past decade engineering enrollments have on an absolute basis been relatively static, and as a percentage of total academic enrollments they have steadily declined.

Why then do not engineering enrollments exhibit a healthy growth? Although many engineering graduates have been very innovative in adapting to a broader view of their function after graduation, on the whole the engineering profession has remained very conservative in its definition of the function of engineering. The engineering schools have been very slow to change. Some that have changed have in reality not moved toward modern engineering, but actually toward a much closer identification with the traditional disciplines of science, physics and chemistry. The potentially creative young people of our society have clearly recognized these academic trends. They are vitally interested in technology, but as it affects and relates to mankind. Therefore, those interested in science are entering the traditional scientific disciplines, and many of those that could be motivated toward the applications of scientific technology are not interested in the narrow vocational training of the traditional engineering college.

Engineering and WPI

Worcester Polytechnic Institute is a small, private, traditional engineering and science college. All of these adjectives are important. Because it is a traditional technical school of regional scope, it seems likely that in the future it will be difficult for WPI to attract the type of intellectually gifted students who might be interested in engineering as it is defined here. While value judgments are not being made with regard to student back- ground, it is assumed in this section that to educate engineers as leaders and decision-makers, the intellectually gifted student in our society must be recognized and wooed. Thus, our traditional reputation in this context is a detriment.

That we are a small private college is a major asset, for this means that we have high potential for flexibility and significant change. In addition, there is little competition at present among engineering schools to provide a technical education of the type discussed herein. WPI has a high potential to assume national leadership in engineering education in the seventies. The In- stitute perhaps stands on the threshold of the most exciting period of its history if it chooses to educate engineers to the true function of the pro- fession. In the next sections some of the possible commitments that must be made by the Institute in order to follow this educational direction are discussed.

The Necessary Environment and Atmosphere of the Institute

WPI should be cognizant of and adopt the following educational principles:

1) The purpose of education is intellectual development; therefore engineering education should not be considered as yielding a product but rather as directing and encouraging a continuing process;
2) Since students enter the Institute at different points in their intellectual development, flexibility in form and content is required to best promote individual education;
3) It must be clearly recognized and accepted that students learn from faculty and other students and that faculty learn from other faculty and students. This point is essential to this type of engineering education. It must be accepted that faculty and students are partners in learning and that the teacher does not act as an omnipotent figure. The Institute should be student centered with students having the right to and encouragement for educational dialogue;
4) The student should be encouraged to accept the major responsibility for his own education. (For example, how does the collecting and grading of home work agree with this principle?);
5) The student should be encouraged to develop a habit of intellectual honesty so that habitual assumptions and ideas can be examined critically;
6) Since the engineer should be educated as a whole person, his participation in the cultural life of his society should be encouraged. WPI must provide some of these cultural experiences and living arrangements conducive to their appreciation;
7) The engineering student must be exposed to real technical-social problems throughout his academic career, and he should be required to reach specific conclusions regarding these problems. These real situations are normally complex and interdisciplinary, and pedagogy is determined to some extent by the nature of the problem. There are two key issues to be faced here. First, conclusions involving real situations must be reached. Gathering of data as an end in itself, and a pre-occupation with glittering generalities are inherent pitfalls that must be avoided. Second, the assumptions necessary to model the system must be made by the student. In traditional engineering education, the main emphasis is on analyzing a given model with little attention being given to the assumptions leading to the use of the model. Neither issue can be considered less important. The current controversy over whether to build anti-ballistic-missile systems is a case in point. Diametrically opposed conclusions have been reached by technical people. The technology for analysis is the same for each camp. However, the assumptions employed in modeling the complex technical-social system have been different; producing contradictory conclusions.

The Structure of the Institute in the Implementation of this Educational Goal.

Serious consideration must be given to changes in current structure and procedures at WPI.

1) The Institute might consist of two basic divisions, each with its own Dean: the Division of Engineering and the Division of Arts and Sciences.
2) The first professional engineering degree might be the Master of Science (4).
3) The Ph.D. degree might not be offered in the Division of Engineering. Faculty on the whole cannot supervise creative specialized research required by the Ph.D. candidate and at the same time be immersed in creative interdisciplinary activities. To conduct both types of activity with separate groups of faculty is very expensive. If a Ph.D. degree were offered it would indicate a different graduate activity on the part of both faculty and student than the traditional research degree.
4) A core curriculum might be offered for the first two years drawing upon courses from both the Division of Engineering and the Division of Arts and Sciences.
5) At least one interdisciplinary course per term might be required of the engineering student on a tutorial, project, or seminar basis (5). Each course of this type should be supervised by an Engineering Division faculty member, and he should be assisted by released consultant faculty from within both the Engineering and Arts and Sciences Divisions.
6) The conventional departmental groupings within the Engineering Division should be carefully studied as to their effectiveness in this educational concept. The optimum structure is that which is most likely to encourage interactions across academic boundaries.
7) The Alden Research Laboratories might be expanded into a research institute to support and implement the working scholarship of the Engineering Division.
8) More optimal class sizes should be considered at both ends of the scale from the conventional twenty-five students.
9) Strength in architecture and/or city planning might be developed in the Engineering Division. Since a goal of engineering education as herein presented is the education of an engineer sensitive to his environment, the city with all its technical and social complexities plays a central role in the engineering problems of society.
10) The Engineering Division should provide relevant educational experiences for students of the arts and sciences. At present in engineering education the traffic of students outside their major discipline is almost always in the direction from engineering to the arts and sciences.
11) In order for there to be strong interaction between the Division of Engineering and Division of Arts and Sciences, the disciplines within the Division of Arts and Sciences must have full academic stature.
12) Each area within the Division of Arts and Sciences in the traditional disciplines should achieve a respected level of scholarship.
13) In order for a prestige engineering program with a strong interdisciplinary base to flourish, relevant new areas should be initiated within the Division of Arts and Sciences. Areas which would appear to warrant a high priority are philosophy and biology.

Compatibility of this Goal with Critical Areas of Implementation and Quality Control The educational goal discussed here would require a major financial outlay by the Institute for initial curriculum development. Interdisciplinary programs have not been implemented to any major extent in the United States (6). A significant portion of the faculty should be released for this implementation; for example, one-half the faculty working full-time on curriculum development for one year. It might be expected that a major share of the cost of this initial development would be borne by government and foundations because of the need for this type of graduate.

The Faculty; Recruitment, Expectations, Encouragement, Campus Life

WPI has a capable core of faculty to implement this goal. It would appear that a major difficulty that could be encountered with regard to the faculty is not one of competence, but one of attitude and involvement.

Flexibility in form and content is important to the attainment of this goal. As an example, some proposals to aid education are listed below. This listing is not meant to imply that all these proposals are valid or inclusive, but only to emphasize that many ideas, perhaps controversial, do have to be considered seriously for successful implementation.

1) Seminar and project activities in engineering represent the heart of the educational plan.
2) All freshman courses be pass-fail, and one course per term be pass-fail after the freshman year.
3) Students sit on faculty committees and in some cases be given academic credit for participation in the decision-making process of major committees.
4) Students and faculty be able to propose "one shot" courses of mutual interest, and after review these be given for academic credit.
5) Only four courses be taken in any term.
6) Students take examinations given by outside authorities to promote a sense of cooperation between faculty and student rather than a sense of competition.
7) Faculty scholarship is essential, and it should be evaluated as broadly as possible. For example, any of the following represents genuine scholarly effort:

a. Research leading to publication;
b. Critical study of one's discipline leading to new ways of organizing its principles and connecting them with other disciplines;
c. Applications of learning in practice.

The Student Applicant

It is evident that the student applicant should be intellectually gifted and of a questioning nature. He should have high verbal skills as well as mathematical skills. While a number of our current students are very eager to promote this kind of education, on the whole our student body composition would have to be leavened with students of a different outlook.

It goes without saying that the Institute should be coeducational.

The Public Image

Embarking on this path would change the nature of WPI. A major public relations effort would be required to bring this new direction to the attention of the public, guidance counsellors, industry, and government. Indeed, a decision would have to be made to operate the Institute at less than full enrollment until a sufficient number of the type of students desired became aware of the program. Otherwise the change could never be made.

Relations with the Local Community

This goal would involve the questioning by students and faculty of technical and social values. Therefore, WPI would develop an abrasive interface with the local community. This is healthy and necessary, for institutions of higher learning should be interested in how things should be, not how they are. It must be recognized that this questioning attitude challenges the community, and the resultant frictions should be a matter of pride and not concern.

Organizational Structure

A key issue is flexibility in operation. The current rigidity of curricular structure governed by (on the most part illusory) scheduling requirements must be softened to take advantage of the potential flexibility of the small college.

Placement - the WPI Graduate

This goal would lead to a broader placement of graduates both geographically and in terms of career activities. This would aid in attracting financial support and applicant response.

Relations with Industry and the Professional and Scientific Communities

If a profession is defined as a group who set their own goals and standards, then engineering is not a profession. Engineers have been incredibly remiss in regulating technology. For example, they have not assumed positions of leadership in advocating regulations with regard to auto safety, air pollution, or urban blight. This educational goal would result in leaders and decision-makers who desire true professional status in their interaction with society. The graduates would assume responsibility for control as well as design of technology.

Two Tower Tradition

WPI has a long and proud "Two Tower" tradition, combining theoretical knowledge with relevant experience. This goal builds on this tradition and indeed amplifies it. The student is constantly challenged to put theory and knowledge to practice in real problems. The two tower concept is amplified by applying the principles to not only technological considerations, but to the broader effects of technology on society.


This very preliminary discussion makes no attempt to conduct a complete analysis for this interim report. Further study is required. However, it is hoped that the concept is clear, and that this introduction will provoke further discussion and study. Let us end this section with an anecdote that seems germane.

Dr. Karl Compton's sister, when living in India, watched a handyman driving a nail in a wall of her house, destroying quantities of lathe and plaster in the process. In desperation, she finally grabbed the hammer and said: "My God, man, let me do that. Why don't you use some common sense?" He drew himself up in all his dignity and said: "Madam, common sense is a gift of God. I've only got a technical education."


(1) L. E. Grinter, "Report on Evaluation of Engineering Education (1952-1953)," J. of Engineering Education, V. 46, No. 1, September 1955, pp. 25-63.
(2) Fortune, January 1969.
(3) "Critique of a College," Swarthmore College, November 1967.
(4) Goals of Engineering Education, J. of Engineering Education, V. 58, January 1968.
(5) C. L. Feldman, "Whither Worcester Tech.," Tech. Journal, V. 71, No. 1, page 12.
(6) "Liberal Learning for the Engineer," J. of Engineering Education, December 1968.

OBJECTIVE 4: To Become a Research-Oriented Graduate Center in Engineering and Science

The following memorandum is intended to establish the advantages for the Institute of adopting an educational orientation much more heavily weighted toward graduate studies. The report also makes an attempt to anticipate some of the more prominent problems associated with such a course of action and to suggest ways of coping with them.


A. The Faculty

The Institute is, to a greater and greater degree, hiring its new science and engineering faculty from among that group of candidates who have obtained, or are about to obtain, the Ph.D. The graduate education which this group has received has, in general, stressed independent research very heavily. A large number of these potential candidates find independent research to be intellectually stimulating and personally and professionally rewarding as well. Since it is generally true that the brightest graduate students seek out the best known departments in their fields, and these in turn are the ones with the strongest research programs, a major commitment to research on the part of Worcester Tech would put it in a favorable position to recruit young faculty members from among the most desirable candidates.

Such a development might have a particularly beneficial effect here, because of the past tendency to recruit faculty from among a rather restricted selection, in which our alumni were perhaps over-represented.

Faculty already associated with the College would also benefit from this change. The influx of new ideas and viewpoints, much of it provided by the younger men, would constitute a powerful antidote to professional complacency and intellectual torpor. Older faculty would be challenged to test many classroom abstractions in the arena of experimental verification. The level of professional debate and discussion among members of the faculty would almost certainly rise sharply.

B. The Undergraduate Student

A new Institute-wide policy concerning research would make itself felt in the area of undergraduate education in two distinct ways: it would affect the recruitment of prospective undergraduates, and the quality of their instruction.

A sizeable number of high school students and their advisers form opinions about the desirability of an education at a given college which are based largely on that institution's "general reputation." The ingredients which are part of this reputation are many, and the term as a whole has a multitude of meanings to a multitude of people. It is safe to say, however, that the outstanding achievements of the academic staff in their respective fields of specialization contribute substantially to the reputation. This is particularly true in fields allied with technology; MIT and Berkeley are conspicuous examples.

A burgeoning research program, yielding results of genuine significance, would provide a boost to the reputation of WPI that would be a distinct asset to the admissions staff. This change would aid particularly in obtaining qualified students outside of New England. If our academic staff is somewhat parochial, then our student body is very definitely so. The future of the Institute as a quality institution may depend in part on our ability to attract first class undergraduate students from the national pool.

As for the general effect of the new program on undergraduate instruction, it would hopefully lead to the assembling of a body of enthusiastic teachers aware of the current status and potentialities of their disciplines. Increased contact between undergraduate and graduate students could be very beneficial to the former, especially if they are going to be encouraged to do more independent research project work themselves. The entire undergraduate curriculum would very likely aim at preparing a large majority of undergraduate students for graduate study.

Finally, the acquisition of sizeable quantities of sophisticated equipment of all kinds necessary to the functioning of the various research programs may, as a peripheral benefit, enable the undergraduate student to become much more familiar with the "state of the art" in his field than would otherwise be the case.

Increased emphasis on research at WPI would probably have an adverse effect on interdisciplinary B.S. programs and the mixed humanities-technology major. The faculty would be very strongly involved in their own fields, and they would tend to conceive research projects and assignments for undergraduates that followed their own interests. Since this program would not tend to encourage expansion and diversification of the non-technical departments (vide infra), there would be much less impetus for a student to select a mixed humanities technology major or even a minor sequence in the humanities or social sciences

C. The Graduate Students

Many of the benefits of this program to the graduate student himself will be rather obvious. There will be an upgrading and expansion of research equipment and support facilities. An increase in both the number and the quality of the graduate students would seem very likely, and this would result in greater, more rewarding interactions among these students. We would require our graduate students to be more articulate than those who presently constitute the norm, because it is likely that most of them will have some teaching responsibilities (vide infra).

D. Future Expansion of the Institute

If the suggested program were truly successful, then it might provide the base for future expansion of the Institute. The promise of absorption of overhead costs by research contracts would lift a good deal of the financial burden from the College. Proven success in attracting contracts and in research output would be a potent selling point for gaining new funds for expansion. Lastly, the equipment and facilities already on campus might provide material support for the birth of new programs.


Given the present highly competitive situation in the research market, embarkation on the proposed program would be futile and pointless unless all segments of the WPI community were convinced that it was very desirable and were, consequently, committed to its support. Is such a state of harmony likely, considering the fact that a sizeable number of present faculty are quite indifferent or actively opposed to graduate education at Tech?

There will have to be a wide spread in the teaching-research balance throughout the Institute. It does not seem desirable for a variety of reasons to have Research Professors, but there will inevitably be staff members the majority of whose time will be invested in research. Conversely, it would seem wise to have all teaching staff involved to some extent in research activities; those who for reasons of personal distaste or lack of professional background do not participate in the graduate program might help guide research and project activities at the undergraduate level.

There will, nonetheless, be many staff members whose contact with and commitment to the research program will vary from minimal to nonexistent. In order to avoid the creation of two classes of faculty members, with its attendant evils, the Institute will have to make it clear that it places value on good teaching and on good research, rather than recognizing merit in only one type of activity. A change in the criteria for hiring new faculty will lead, more and more, to a reasonably homogenous outlook and level of research participation among members of the academic staff.

It is likely that a program which grants priority to graduate study will widen the gap between the science and engineering departments on the one hand and the humanities and social science departments on the other. The Institute would probably not risk spreading its resources too thinly, at least at the beginning of the program, by starting graduate programs in those departments where they do not already exist. In fact, it would be highly desirable for the College administration to examine all the graduate programs presently underway, to see if their continuation at this time is justified, or if others should be substituted. The humanities and social science staff would divide their teaching time between a number of required service courses and a smaller portion of advanced courses demanded by a (hopefully) intellectually alert undergraduate student body. It may be possible, by making greater use of a variety of new teaching techniques, to relieve staff members of much of the drudgery in the service courses. This would allow a greater proportion of time to be spent on advanced material, which would make the recruiting of desirable staff considerably easier.


It is widely accepted that no college or university can support more than a small portion of an ambitious research program out of its own pocket. The biggest contributor has been, and will undoubtedly continue to be, the Federal government through its myriad agencies. The large foundations appear to be losing interest in supporting research in science and engineering, and industry has not been willing (up to now) to contribute enough to make it a dependable source of funds. Any decision to undertake an expanded program of graduate research must turn upon a very critical analysis of our ability to attract a sufficient quantity of Federal funds, and the potential political problems which receipt of those funds might create.

There have been many indications over the last few years that the "Golden Age" of Federal funding for science may be over. Although the present Federal administration seems to favor a modest increase in the NSF budget, for instance, it appears that the Federal research budget will be hemmed in for some time by the demands of other sectors of society for large sums of money. Furthermore, the number of graduate engineers and scientists interested in doing academic research has been increasing steadily, and the demand on the available funds is heavier than ever. Finally, if substantial amounts of research money suddenly appeared, WPI would be competing for them with other institutions which already command solid reputations for research productivity. These colleges and universities present a formidable barrier to WPI's ambitions for research development.

Two courses of action seem to offer some hope of overcoming these obstacles. The first would involve attracting to the Institute a few men in each department who have sizeable research reputations in their respective fields. These invitations would have to be made quite appealing and would undoubtedly involve, among other things, the initial outlay of considerable sums of money. These men would be hired on the understanding that they produce substantial results or leave; at the same time, sacrifices may be required elsewhere on campus to support these critical efforts. Simultaneously, the Institute should encourage research in those areas which have fairly immediate social applicability, since this is a category which seems destined to receive large infusions of Federal money. Urban planning and biomedical engineering are examples which come readily to mind. Encouragement of group research projects, and interdisciplinary research programs, would also seem to be indicated in light of changing philosophies on funding within many Federal agencies.

It would also seem appropriate for us to make a greater effort at obtaining industrial money. Considering the fact that Worcester Tech is the supposed ''darling'' of much local industry, that industry has certainly not seen fit to extend monetary donations on anything matching the scale of their verbal appreciation. A somewhat harder sell, including the donation vs. increased taxation argument, might be more fruitful. It is very questionable whether our present accounting procedures, which have provided us with a nationally prominent overhead cost figure, will be much of an asset in attracting research funds.

Finally, the cost of a first-rate graduate program might be considerably reduced through cooperative arrangements with Clark University and Holy Cross College. The sciences and mathematics would benefit most from such an arrangement, and engineering programs to a considerably lesser degree. A joint Center for Graduate Studies is a possibility that deserves consideration, but it is too complex a question to be dealt with here.


A. Faculty Roles

One of the principal objections to the proposed program will be that the quality of undergraduate instruction will be sacrificed to the production demands of graduate research. There seems to be some historical precedent for such a conclusion. It need not be so, however, if adequate safeguards are established. We believe that it is possible to find young candidates for staff positions who have both research talent and pedagogical flair. It will be necessary to be very selective in recruiting; it will be equally necessary to offer suitable inducements.

The aforementioned policy statement, setting forth the Institute's desire for both good teaching and good research, will have to be enforced. The Dean of Faculty will have an important role here and may have to overrule a Department Head on occasion. He may also have to decide which activity is to have priority for a given staff member at a given time.

B. Graduate Teaching Assistants

The prospect of increased use of teaching assistants also disturbs many. Again, this need not lead to inferior instruction if adequate safeguards are maintained. The Ph.D.'s of this year are the college teachers of next year, so there exists no a priori justification for a blanket condemnation of teaching by graduate assistants. Since research is a time-consuming occupation, there will have to be an increase in the full-time faculty of the Institute; but even with this increase, it will probably be necessary, for economic reasons, to call upon graduate teaching assistants to a greater degree. The Dean of the Graduate School and the Graduate Study Committee may have important regulatory roles to play in this sphere.

It is clear that there will have to be an irreducible minimum number of domestic graduate students. Beyond that they will have to be quality students in order that the research program be successful and that teaching standards be maintained. This set of premises leads then to another critical question: will the Institute be able to attract graduate students of high caliber in sufficient numbers? This question is not unrelated to the one concerning our ability to garner sufficient research funds, for we shall be competing with the same universities for both. Furthermore, our success in each area will probably depend in large part upon a common set of factors. It would be very useful to have some figures on projected graduate school enrollments in science and engineering for the next few years in order that we might further assess whether this is a propitious time to embark upon a program of expanded graduate study.


A. The Middle College

One possible ultimate result of the proposed program would be the transformation of WPI into a middle college - one that accepts its incoming undergraduate students at the junior level. The undergraduate curriculum would consist mostly of specialized courses in specific fields, and project work. There would be little or no need for service courses on the Institute wide level; this fact would make itself felt most strongly in the non-technical departments. They would have small staff requirements, but would concern themselves only with advanced undergraduate courses.

OBJECTIVE 6: To Train Students for a Bachelor of Science Degree in



Many colleges of engineering have turned since the 1940's from the training of technologists to an educational pattern more closely allied with the parent sciences of mathematics, chemistry, and physics. There is substantial indication of a more and more serious shortage of qualified technologists. A well-trained technologist, while probably not involved in feasibility studies or critical overall systems decisions, is responsible for taking the basic plan of action and carrying forward a design resulting in a hardware system. He is well trained in the design and selection of components. His basic strength is his capacity for evolving a discrete system within already defined boundaries. For example, in the aero-space field, a technologist would be responsible for a well-designed rocket engine--after the critical feasibility decisions and technological breakthroughs have been made available to him.

The need for this type of technologist is not now being filled. The two-year schools of technology offer rather superficial technological training, and in many cases they tend to ape the four-year more scientifically oriented engineering and science colleges.

There is much evidence that in the forties, WPI did a superb job of training this type of engineer. Since that time a polarization of views has taken place: one group advocating this type of training and another pressing for a more scientific orientation.

It would appear that if the decision is made to train technologists then the Institute has some very major assets. Some of the evaluation criteria are outlined in what follows.


The Institute has in the past taken pride in graduates so trained that they could make immediate contributions within a defined technological area. Industry and the public have this impression of WPI to a large degree, and if a decision to strengthen this type of curriculum is made, the potential student and industrial markets are already quite well developed.


This goal requires that the student be exposed to high-level technology and instrumentation, with specialization in the technical description of various systems. The emphasis on the system studied must change as the technology changes. It would follow then that WPI must develop a number of first-rate experimental facilities and the associated modern instrumentation in order to perform effectively.


Many of the engineering faculty are highly motivated in the direction of the above objective and they have considerable strengths. They could form the core of the faculty required to achieve this goal. Considerable re-education in achieving more familiarity with technological facilities would be necessary, but a large financial investment would not be required. Professional activity of the faculty would be chiefly in the realm of testing. It has to be recognized by the faculty that this goal rather clearly defines the direction of effort, and that increased graduate emphasis is contrary to its success.


If this objective is adopted, then curricular developments would have to be tailored to meet it. Obviously, the Ph.D. degree program would not be relevant. The humanities and social science areas would be service departments; for example, the English Department would emphasize report writing. The computer facility would serve technology programs; the emphasis would be on programming for problem-solving rather than on software development.

The pedagogy would be directed to a strong ability to analyze a model, with less emphasis on the selection of the model. A major concern would be accuracy and attention to detail. The curriculum would have to be flexible to accommodate changes in technology. For example, expertise in gas turbine technology in the fifties would have been replaced by rocket engine technology in the sixties and perhaps by fuel cell technology in the seventies.


There is certainly a need for this type of training. The financial rewards in industry are quite good, and students will continue to be attracted to this vocational orientation. Perhaps the student body could and should be enlarged to reduce the impact of fixed costs in the form of extensive laboratory facilities. Since competition in this direction is probably decreasing, a wider geographic base could be rather easily established.

[WPI] [Library] [Table of Contents] [Top]

Last modified: Fri Mar 5 15:28:11 EST 1999