Ms. Doonesbury's Lament or Why She Can't Take Our Class

We've been getting some calls and messages here at the Comparative Media Studies Program regarding the situation with Mike Doonesbury's daughter getting lotteried out of our Introduction to Media Studies subject. See the most recent installments from the long running comic strip. doonesbury2.gif

An installment a few weeks ago introduced the problem, saying that she was lotteried out of a HASS-D subject in Media Studies.

So let me clarify some of the background. In MIT lingo, a HASS-D is a Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Distribution subject. Essentially, this is our variant on the core curriculum. Each student selects from a broad array of possible options. Interestingly, there is only one HASS-D in Media Studies at MIT: the Introduction to Media Studies class which we teach each fall. I created this class in collaboration with Martin Roberts about a decade ago. It is currently being taught by my colleague, Beth Coleman, who doesn't look very much like the guy shown in the cartoon.


The class is a large lecture hall subject which draws 50-75 students and breaks out into a range of smaller discussion sessions.

By design, HASS-Ds are small subjects. We are not allowed to have more than 25 students in the discussion sections. A Lottery system is set up to deal with the overflow problem created by the most popular classes. One of the prides of MIT is that these HASS-D subjects are taught by MIT faculty -- we all spend time in the undergraduate classroom -- unlike a certain place up the road from us, where such subjects would likely be taught by graduate students.

Ironically, Introduction to Media Studies has never actually had a lottery. Gary Trudeau is correct that the subject draws strong interest -- many students share Ms. Doonesbury's passionate engagement in the topic -- but because of the mixture of lecture and breakout session, we have been able to accommodate every student who wants to take the class.

That said, I would have little sympathy for Ms. Doonesbury's protests for special treatment. MIT is very much a meritocracy and would not make exceptions to its policies based on parental pressure or other forms of personal influence. MIT is proud of the fact that it does not allow "legacies" -- students whose parents have MIT degrees do not receive preferential treatment in our process -- and has never given out an honorary degree. Those who wear the brass rat have earned that honor by hard work. We try to be flexible in accommodating special needs of students but at the end of the day, a lottery is probably the fairest way to decide who stays when a class is oversubscribed.

Anyway, I thought people would be interested in knowing the back-story on these particular strips. I can say that we in the Comparative Media Studies program are delighted that Ms. Doonesbury is so enthusiastic about wanting to get into our classes. We hope she makes it one of these days. We'd love to see her become a major. A growing number of frosh are arriving at MIT wanting to major in our program. We are now the largest Humanities major at MIT.

Several people have noted that the guy in the cartoon doesn't look very much like me -- and he looks even less like Beth (who as I said is the person teaching the class this term). So, here's the offer. I will send a free copy of Convergence Culture to the first person who sends me a doctored version of the cartoon which replaces the rather generic professor character with an authentic Henry Jenkins avatar. Send them to me at

Update!: We have a winner and in record time. Genie, a reader from Australia, was the first to send me a "corrected" (or some would say "doctored") version of the Doonesbury cartoon with my likeness embedded. Here it is:


After all, to "doctor" is to make someone better, isn't it?