Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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


Since only ten percent of the student body took part in Planning Day discussions, it seemed advisable to obtain a wider expression of student opinion by conducting open-ended discussions with the fraternities and with residents of the dormitories. It should be kept in mind that while the Planning Group was successful in reaching a larger portion of the student body in this manner, less than a majority of the students participated, and we were unable to arrange a meeting with those students living in off-campus housing.

The discussions were conducted in an informal, congenial manner, and it was apparent to the Group that the students were highly receptive to this type of relaxed communication between the faculty members and themselves. Allowing for the normal number of expected personal gripes, there were still certain recurrent themes common to most groups.

The most prominent complaint involved the manner in which the students believe they are being treated by the faculty at large. Too often, the student feels that he is considered incapable of making any decisions; as a result, he is required to attend class, turn in homework, and take specific sets of courses; and he is subjected to "pop" quizzes, closed-book examinations requiring memorization rather than thought, and laboratory sessions involving more routine work than opportunity to explore new concepts and exercise ingenuity. The student feels that he is being trained, not educated, and prevented from realizing his potential. The end result is that too many students, matriculating here without any real comprehension of either the education or role of the engineer or scientist, have been "turned off" from continuing interest in these areas. They transfer to other colleges or, where transferral is not feasible, they remain here with a negative attitude, doing the minimum amount of work necessary in order to get by.

Related to the above complaint is a concern that our humanities courses are really "humanities for engineers" courses and not the type that would be offered to liberal arts majors. There was the belief that the WPI student must become more articulate and that "good" humanities courses might help the student reduce his sense of inadequacy when he talks with his peers at other colleges.

The respondents (among the fraternity men) seemed to have ambivalent feelings. They maintained that the fraternities had generally been remiss in providing a better atmosphere for their members, but also accused the college of neglecting to identify and support the positive aspects of fraternity life. Many expressed the feeling their fraternity provided more sense of actual community than any other subdivision within the Institute. By the same token, there was general dismay over the College's neglect of the social needs of those residing in its dormitories. The dining facilities and dormitory lounges have not been conducive to the students' social development, and the non-fraternity man living in the dormitory has felt that there is no social life open to him at all.

In one sense, the most disturbing theme coming out of the Group's discussions was the students' feeling that there has been little close contact between the students and faculty. Many students appeared to know little about college affairs, were unaware of their instructors as people, and, in general, felt apart from the other human elements of the College. The advisory system came under considerable criticism, with a substantial number of students indicating that either the faculty was not really interested in them or else could be approached on a course-related problem only. It was equally apparent that the students wanted a better relationship and at the end of many of the Group's visits, we heard the comment: 'Why can't we have more discussions of this type? We didn't know the faculty was really interested or even human!"

The lack of faculty-student dialogue may have been an important contributing factor in the students' concern for their future. Few students appeared to be cognizant of professional life following graduation, and most were unenthusiastic about the future. There was general agreement that the student body is largely conservative and makes little attempt to make much contact with the off-campus world. There has been relatively little contact even with students on the other Worcester college campuses.

The discussions with the living groups were of great value in establishing an interchange of student and faculty opinion, for the student comments involved immediate needs and problems. Few of the students in these groups had read the Planning Report, either in its published form or in exerpt form in the student newspaper. In general, the students expressed a surprising amount of good-will toward WPI, and it seems imperative to us that the College as a whole, as well as the Planning Committee, capitalize on this good-will and the sincere desire on the part of the students to talk with the faculty as we plan for the future.

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