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Alumni Letters

Comments from our readers

Thinking about Thinking

Roger O’Dell’s very thoughtful article (“My View,” MIT News, December 2004) opened up some similar thoughts that I had, but he doesn’t go far enough.

Roger assumes that ideas are more or less rational and have a long shelf life. If that were true, then MIT grads would find themselves later in life with the same abilities to cope that they had when they graduated. But this is not the case. Older grads tend to get stuck with older ideas that were successful when they were younger. Older grads start thinking that a new idea is disruptive to their stasis. Older grads start worrying about the risks involved in a new venture. Older grads tend to prejudge new ideas. So they go romping into a “new-products meeting” with biases about what will or will not work, and they act as roadblocks rather than facilitators.

What is the cause of this? The cause is the overly rational, scientific process that they learned at MIT. That method simply doesn’t address the aging process or the changing process in people.

I recently developed a Web-based creative problem-solving process that would help people learn to address problems from a fresh new perspective, every time. That is what should be an integral part of MIT education, if we want to prevent grads from becoming stuck as they get old. Please try the “Solution Machine” and see for yourself. It’s available free on the Web at home.att.net/~kennethfinn/SOL/home.html.

Kenneth Finn ’67, SM ’69
Bedford, NY

Reclaim MIT Crew’s Former Glory

We felt great pride in the article about our MIT lightweight crews of 1954 and 1955 (“Quest for the Cup,” MIT News, December 2004); it was a wonderful experience for us. Reflecting on those times, we are convinced that our pursuit of excellence in a highly competitive crew program not only enhanced our attitudes and performance when we were students but also led to the discovery and development of personal qualities from which we have benefited greatly throughout our professional and personal lives.

It was indeed challenging to survive the rigors of MIT academics while competing in a conference of the best college crews in the country, including Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Navy, as well as 10 others. Then, and for 25 years thereafter, the men’s varsity crews (both heavy and lightweight) were always contenders—usually in the middle of the pack, but also three times champions and only twice in the cellar.

Since 1980, however, these MIT crews have finished dead last in the conference championship regatta 30 times, and above average only once. In 2002, MIT lacked enough heavyweight varsity oarsmen to put an eight-oared shell on the water—the first time in MIT’s history. The women’s program, established in 1976 and initially promising, has fared no better in the last 15 years. Have institutional policies shifted away from the goal of individual and team excellence in intercollegiate competition?

In 1959, athletic director Richard Balch proclaimed that “the MIT athletic staff is engaged in building an athletic program that will equal the academic standards of the university.” We urge the reädoption of this policy.

Our concern is not one of nostalgia or of personal preference. Rather, our concern first and foremost is for MIT and the education of the whole person. We consider that the opportunity to compete successfully at the highest intercollegiate level is essential to the achievement of this goal. We who competed well against the fastest college crews in the country and at Henley count this as perhaps the most important attribute of our Institute experience. We are anxious to see MIT again make that achievement a possibility for its students.

This requires that the MIT crew program be designed to become once again competitive within our traditional conference. It does not require special scholarships or any actions inconsistent with MIT’s admission practices. It does require that the importance of crew be recognized and that the program’s funding be consistent with its number of participants and the amount of quality time they devote to it. It requires that neither cost nor space requirements limit squad sizes for men, women, freshmen, or upperclassmen. And of most vital importance, such a program requires coaches of the same level of excellence in their field as the academic faculty are in theirs.

Thomas E. Blood ’58
Robert F. Buntschuh ’55
Gordon J. Burrer ’55
Terry M. Carney ’56, SM ’58
David C. Lukens ’57
Frederick E. Nelson ’55
Robert N. Sawyer ’56
Valdemar A. Skov ’55, SM ’56
Jerome D. Waye ’54
Robert D. Wilkes ’55, SM ’56

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