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EECS moves up closing time of computer labs

By Wasiq M. Bokhari

Laboratories used in Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (6.001) and Computation Structures (6.004) are being closed by midnight every night of the week under a new departmental policy. The labs had previously been open 24 hours.

According to Professor Charles D. Paton, the November 1987 vandalism of all of the computers in the 6.004 lab forced the department to install guards at the labs. Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend the 22 computers -- each valued at $20,000 -- were damaged when someone poured Coca-Cola or Pepsi into vents, Paton said.

At the request of several professors, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science then asked the Campus Police to protect the labs against further vandalism. But, "students and professors didn't like having the guards in the labs," Paton said.

The complaints raised by the presence of the guards caused the department to re-think the structure for the hours of Course VI labs. Throughout last term, the department looked at read-outs which indicated that on many nights there were "only two or three" students in 6.001 and 6.004 labs. "We decided that the old set-up was not very efficient," Paton said.

The new system -- with no late night hours -- does not require guards to be in the lab, he said. In addition, a teaching assistant is scheduled to be at the lab for all the hours it is open, to better help students. While closing the labs overnight does cut some hours out of student lab time, the labs "are now open all day Sunday until midnight to compensate for the lost hours," Paton said.

With the decision to close the 6.001 and 6.004 labs by midnight, all of the labs of core curriculum courses of the EECS Department share the same hours: 8:45 am to 11:45 pm (Mondays through Fridays), 9 am to 4:45 pm (Saturdays) and 4 pm to 11:45 pm (Sundays). Cumulatively, close to one-third of the undergraduates at MIT are involved with the four Course VI core lab subjects.

Students traditionally have found that the core EECS classes require a lot of time. Last fall's Course VI Evaluation Guide gave as the average amount of time spent in lab for 6.001 and 6.004 as 10.5 and 6 hours respectively.

Louis B. Braida SM '69, lecturer of 6.001 this spring, said "We think that this amount of time should be enough to complete the assignments, however, if we find that our estimate is wrong, we will think it over again".

Many students who have had the gruelling experience of the " double-o" courses call them a " time-sink". Quoting Gaurav Rewari, sophomore Course VI, these subjects are " typified by time dialation in the lab". The course six evaluation guide gives an average lab requirement of 10.5, 3, 4 and 6 hours weekly for 6.001, 6.002, 6.003 and 6.004 respectively, based on students' reports. According to the guide, the prerequisites for 6.001 are " time, computer experience, time, time-management, time"!

With lab times shortened, labs are slowly becoming infected with acute congestion. Added to this is the fact that more people are taking 6.001 and 6.003 this semester than the previous one. Indeed, the reduction of all lab times is an unprecedented step and its would be consequences on the course six students are still unclear. According to Rewari, " it would seriously affect the sleeping habits of course six majors". He further added, " it would also cast serious aspersions on the efficacy of the much abused ` all-nighter' as a means of student survival at MIT".