Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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


It is apparent, even from the recorder's condensations, that each discussion group had its own mood, its own concerns, and its own focus. It would, therefore, be quite misleading to suggest that any consensus, except of the broadest kind, emerged from the several discussion groups. Nonetheless, there were certain themes and counter-subjects which appeared with reasonable frequency in many of the group minutes, and it is advantageous to present them here.

As far as the operation of the Planning Group itself is concerned, one recurrent criticism was that it had failed to distinguish sufficiently between the goals and the methods by which they are to be obtained. The hope was expressed that more care would be devoted to this important distinction in future reports.

It is relatively easy to tick-off those objectives which aroused little enthusiasm. Few would care to join the state university; fewer still wish to see WPI transformed into a middle college; a B.S. in Technology is a less-than-exciting prospect for the large majority; and there is near universal agreement that the status quo is a condition of which we should divest ourselves with all deliberate speed. Although there were some comments that WPI did have a responsibility to the underprivileged, none seemed willing to advocate this as our prime function. Interest in the general university was expressed in many quarters, although considerable skepticism was voiced regarding the feasibility of its attainment. In many cases the interests seemed to be for the diversity of offerings available at a general university rather than for the type of institution itself.

The bias in favor of our remaining a college of limited size, primarily oriented toward undergraduate education, was overwhelming; and the idea of our becoming a research-oriented graduate center was decisively rejected. At the same time, both faculty and students seemed to feel that a modest graduate program was essential for attracting a superior faculty and for enabling its members to maintain their intellectual vigor. The view was expressed that the graduate students should provide intellectual stimulation not only for the faculty, but also for the undergraduate students. Some felt that the educational experience of the undergraduate student could be greatly enriched through increased contacts between graduate and undergraduate students. Several participants thought that graduate students could be more effective in assisting in the instruction of advanced courses rather than in teaching basic courses.

Many agreed that preparing a student for graduate study was an increasingly important task for a leading undergraduate school, and that WPI should move accordingly. At the same time, concern was indicated for those students who were disinclined to undertake post-graduate studies; it was felt that they should not be coerced into such a program. In several groups the suggestion was made that a five-year program might provide the answer. One line of study would terminate in a Master's degree; a parallel line of study would be a five-year cooperative program.

Of those objectives which specifically stress undergraduate education, no "choice" could be expressed between objectives 1 and 2. In fact, there was a good deal of debate over whether or not one objective led automatically to the other, and whether leadership could be taught in any formal way. These two objectives seem clearly marked for further study.

The responses to objective 3 ran the gamut from total indifference to wild enthusiasm. It is moot whether the majority of participants truly understood the implications of this proposal. Where they did, some skepticism was expressed concerning the ability of our students to handle the responsibility. A number felt that many aspects of this approach could profitably be incorporated into any program which WPI decided to implement.

Objective 8 was not widely discussed. There was limited debate over whether or not the stated objective could constitute a realistic goal for a college. Some did feel that the innovative spirit envisaged by this proposal should be nurtured by the college.


Along with, and intertwined within, the discussion of goals and criteria was an obsessive reference to atmosphere and ambience. There were repeated pleas, and even demands, for more openness, less structure and rigidity, an escape from provincialism, more debate and interaction between faculty and students, a humanizing atmosphere -- in short, excitement and possibility. Very few of the participants were strongly attached to a given goal or combination of goals. Rather, what the participants desired was an objective that would bring about the change in atmosphere they so obviously felt has been lacking here. It would appear that WPI has underestimated the latent hunger for experimentation and intellectual excitement that lies within this college community.

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