Volume 96, Issue 65
Friday, January 24, 2003

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MIT defended by those who know it best

On Jan. 21, Emmett Macfarlane, a Gazette news editor, wrote a column entitled "MIT not where it hoped to be?" As is the case with many editorial pieces by Mr. Macfarlane, his criticisms brought forth a slew of letters from readers. Below are a selection of letters, which, if they said anything, show that media, information and technoculture students are a well-read and proud group. We apologize to those who submitted letters on the subject that didn't make it to print. To be sure, Mr. Macfarlane will write something worthy of a response again soon.

To the Editor:

I was frustrated to read Macfarlane's criticism that the MIT program fails to offer its students "real" skills for the "real" world.

I disagree with Macfarlane's suggestion that critical thinking is more of a buzzword than a valuable tool. The ability to think critically is not only a "real" skill, but also a fundamental life skill. For example, teaching media students to consider what is ethical or unethical is about as real as it gets – whether you work in journalism, public relations, law, business, government, health, etc.. How you decide to apply these skills is your decision. It's about developing a conscience.

In addition, I disagree with his assumption that learning about alternative media is fundamentally useless. Consider the impact of radio being used in African countries to educate its people about HIV/AIDS prevention. Consider video activism that documents the unjust treatment of human beings. Consider types of journalism that uncover the real voices and the real people behind the standard press release, so that the public can be educated. Consider the Web as a publishing tool – a voice for those who have no voice. These are efforts worth telling and sharing. These are real solutions for a world that we all must share; being inspired to contribute is anything but useless.

I want to stress that the MIT experience is what you make it – in the courses you choose, the skills you develop, the attitude you adopt and the way in which you choose to make yourself accountable in your future career. As an MIT student, this learning process has been a privilege. To realize that you can make a positive contribution through communication is a very powerful thing.

Lindsey Coad

To the Editor:

Emmett Macfarlane's claim that all MIT courses teach "a Marxist ideological stew," is the claim of an arrogant individual who has not truly experienced the full impact of the program. Unless, of course, having experienced a whole half credit course in MIT allows him to make such a judgment.

MIT is revolutionary for a reason: it is taught by the most diverse range of individuals in any university community. We have professors with backgrounds ranging from computer science to history, and everything in between. This allows for numerous perspectives on topics that could not be matched by a science or Ivey program. These alternate visions of the "real" world force us to challenge the naturalized ideologies that have become implanted in our society for decades.

As for his claim that all we study are the evils of capitalism – what do you expect? Capitalism runs rampant in the Western World, and what better way to deal with this "real" world phenomenon than by studying its effects in our own society?

Obviously, he assumes that a program that stresses free thinking and critical analysis must be a waste of time because, unlike other programs, we don't spend hours memorizing facts from a textbook – which will ultimately be forgotten right after graduation. Comparing MIT to more conventional programs perpetuates the ignorance which is commonly held by more traditional schools of thought, which see the communications field as a useless endeavor.

He says that knowledge of "alternative mediaÉ is fundamentally useless," and yet, it is because of this knowledge that he should be paying homage to MIT. By having his view published in a student paper – an alternative media outlet – it becomes apparent that he is dependent, and must rely upon, all of the things that he has criticized in his article in order for his view to be heard.

Justin Manuel
Honours MIT II

To the Editor:

Most MIT students I know are more than willing to engage in a debate about issues and perspectives raised in lecture or concerning the nature of their program, provided the discussion is thoughtful.

The issue is not that the MIT program is above critique; instead, my concern is that your superficial piece is intended as a serious commentary.

As an MIT/English graduate and student in the new [faculty of information and media studies masters program] in media studies, allow me to argue your claim against the undergraduate program's "offering [of] a critical, interdisciplinary analysis of institutions, practices and cultural meanings." The very nature of the combined streams of the program provides evidence of being interdisciplinary.

Similarly, a "Marxist ideological view" is but one of the myriad perspectives and arguments that combine to suggest a multifaceted response to a very real global village mentality – a mentality that permeates western culture among others, and relies heavily on the integrated "use" and understanding of what you slough off as useless "cyberculture."

In the restricted space of a letter to the editor, I can only draw attention to your limited and pointedly uninformed comments – an ironic twist indeed, given your MIT experience. Perhaps this program is not for you?

Kate Kerr
Masters of Media Studies I

To the Editor:

Here's why Emmett Macfarlane's attack on MIT isn't fair: it is derived from a purely economic standpoint, and he fails to either mention or recognize this fact.

The problem with his standpoint is that it only recognizes one single type of value: financial gain. In other words, if it doesn't make money, it cannot be good. All his criticisms of the program (it "offers a Marxist ideological stew," the courses are "excessive in their anti-establishment messages" and most importantly, the program doesn't offer any "usable tools in the 'real world') are based on monetary value.

Macfarlane doesn't like MIT because he only recognizes financial gain as valuable, and he believes that the MIT program cannot offer financial gain to its students. While many would call even this notion into question (public relations firms are nutty with their money), the fact remains that there are other types of value in the world that can be recognized by anyone who steps outside of the economic model.

Macfarlane snidely dismisses the idea that MIT cultivates "critical thinking," saying that any knowledge of "alternative media" or "cyberculture" is "fundamentally useless."

To be honest, some people can still find value in the notion of critical thinking, even though it's hard to situate on a résumé. Hell, some people even believe that education shouldn't just be a means to a financial end. All that I ask is that the next time you rip into something, you might as well point out that the only value you're taking into account is money.

And hey – MIT in Massachusetts? Noam Chomsky lectures there.

He might be a bit too lefty, for your blood.

Ryan Carr
MIT/Political Science IV




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