Proposed calendar changes would harm students
(Editor's note: The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to Professor Henry D. Jacoby, faculty chairperson.)
We, the members of the Student Committee on Educational Policy, are writing this letter in regard to the recent discussion involving the academic calendar changes. Although we recognize the need to restructure the reading period and final exam period, we feel the proposed changes are inadequate and possibly detrimental to the student body.
The proposed changes would shorten and eliminate some of the holidays currently observed. Because of the intensity of the work done by MIT students, frequent and lengthy holidays are necessary. Professors often assign as much work over a holiday break as during a regular week. Shortening holidays would encourage more professors to give out assignments which are the same length as usual -- despite the holiday weekend -- which gives students no time to relax or to catch up in difficult classes.
It is the consensus of SCEP that a one day holiday is pointless, as it would go unnoticed by students. In addition, under the proposed calendar changes, the two day vacation between IAP and the new term would be eliminated. Students who take intensive classes over IAP would be tossed from finals to a new term with no break at all.
Our main criticism of the proposed revision is not the shortening and elimination of some holidays, but rather the motivation behind these changes. Professor William M. Siebert '46 notes that some professors find "they must give exams more than once to accommodate students who have conflicting exams." The new plan is inherently flawed because it was modeled to best serve the faculty rather than the student body.
It is our observation that students are not allowed adequate preparation time for finals. Siebert rightfully observes that students "have little breathing space between finals, having to take exams one immediately after the other." The current "reading period" is woefully short, forcing students to cram study time in between exams. Students must often pull consecutive all-nighters if they have many finals.
Most high-caliber, high-pressure schools give students at least a week to prepare for finals. MIT only gives two days and a weekend. The length of the final exam period would be irrelevant if students were given enough time in advance to prepare. This can only be accomplished by the installation of a proper reading period.
If the faculty proposal were enacted our reading period would be shortened even further, and final exam period stretched out. The increased finals period would encourage more professors to give exams. Not only would this force students to pull even more all-nighters, but it would discourage professors from finding more innovative ways of grading students such as with projects or term papers. It is SCEP's observation that in "the real world" there are no final exams.
Perhaps it would behoove the faculty to consider the cause of increased number of finals. The current program requires all HASS-D subjects administer a final examination. This policy implies that better classes -- those worthy enough of a HASS-D rating -- certainly have finals. SCEP sees no basis for this assumption.
In fact, many humanities professors resent this policy so they administer pointless exams, which are worth one percent of the final grade or for which the answers have been distributed. The question as to whether or not a class needs a final examination should be left to the professor; the question as to whether or not a class should be considered a humanities distribution subject should be determined by the relevance of the subject matter and by the amount of work done by the students.
We request that the faculty consider a proposal from SCEP regarding more beneficial calendar changes. SCEP will submit this proposal to the faculty committee for evaluation at its next meeting. Our proposal will take into consideration the final exam period, student input and the academic calendar structure at other universities, and seeks community suggestions. In the future, we request that the faculty treat the student body with more openness when considering such major adjustments to the academic program.
Monnica Williams '92->
Student Committee on->