Calendar changes fail to address problems
Most people may not have really noticed that the academic calendar this year will give them cause for a little discomfort.
Last year a faculty ad hoc committee decided that MIT's academic calendar needed some adjustments. The biggest problem with it was that there was not enough time at the end of both semesters to give a lot of exams, and too many students were having exam conflicts.
In addition, the reading period was too short, and the exam period was a cause of record-breaking stress levels among MIT students.
With the above problems in mind the ad hoc committee set out with the noble cause of solving them.
Now, thanks to the innovative changes made by the ad hoc committee, there is an extra day of finals, and one less day of reading period in the fall term. In the spring, President's Day vacation is one day shorter, Registration Day is now on a Thursday, the short break after Independent Activities Period has been terminated, and the reading period remains as short as it ever was.
MIT's reading period is meager. Each class at MIT covers an ample amount of material. Three or four days is just not enough to adequately review and prepare for as many as four (and sometimes five) finals, particularly with the workload associated with each course. In fact, compared to other universities, our reading period is virtually non-existent. Harvard University has a reading period of two weeks. We need more time than we currently have.
The most unwise change by far was moving Registration Day on a Thursday. This erroneous move will have serious ramifications. In order to cover financial burdens many students work during IAP. Employers like their employees to work full weeks, not to say: "Oops, sorry but I can only work until Wednesday; I have Reg Day, you know!" Second, many students have taxing projects in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program or take 12-unit courses during IAP and the four-day vacation which follows IAP is a good chance to rest, visit family, or prepare for the beginning of the next term.
For both of the above reasons, I predict a very low turnout on Registration Day. I know I will not be there. I will be home. What is the point of traveling to MIT for one single day of classes (Friday), when nothing happens on the first day of lectures? In fact, most recitations are on Friday, and there are no recitations in the first week of classes. So why come back (or stay at) MIT when you could spend some time at home, or earn more money by working a full week? You can always register on Monday.
I personally praise this ad hoc committee for having taken the initiative to try
to solve the problems that were inherent
in the old calendar. Unfortunately, the changes that resulted solve very little. There are other problems besides abundant exam conflicts. Student stress, which was an important issue in bringing the calendar changes about, will remain as high, if not higher.
Perhaps what made the attempt by the faculty fruitless was the way in which the problem of the calendar was approached. The root of the problem of exam conflicts is the increase in the number of final exams due to the School of Humanities and Social Science policy that all HASS-D subjects give finals. This policy falls just short of being completely silly. It was used as a magic tool to make the humanities program harder and thus more respectable, not as an educational tool. HASS professors should be allowed to choose what is more appropriate for their respective classes, not be forced to implement final exams that sometimes take the form of multiple-choice tests, mindless memorization games, or only count 10 percent or less towards your grade, and only give you additional stress.
The reading period would not be so bad if the last week of classes was used for what it really should be -- review. MIT classes cover a vast amount of material, and I think reserving the last couple of lectures to summarize and bring the material together would be very beneficial. Instead, new material is usually taught until the last lecture, and since there are rules against having problem sets due during the last week of classes (you can find these rules printed on the exam schedule booklet), we often have to go through that "optional" problem set, that often carries "optional extra credit." One thing we can be sure of is that the material covered in this "optional" problem set will be in our not-so-optional final exam.
Although the present calendar is only an "experiment," it will remain in place until 1993, and it clearly leaves many problems unsolved. The ad hoc faculty committee attempted to solve some of these problems but the reason they could not was that they found it impossible to alter many of the factors that affect the calendar. IAP falls under the jurisdiction of another committee, as does Residence/Orientation Week. The issues of HASS-D finals and workload are controversial and needed further discussion. Major calendar reform collided with almost every single current educational issue. Was this a good reason to refrain from the necessary changes? On the contrary, it was a better reason to push for major calendar reform. Major calendar reform presents us with the unprecedented opportunity to force MIT to come face to face with it's educational issues.
Faculty and students should not put off calendar reform, for we need it now, not in 1993.
Alex Solis '92 is chairman of Undergraduate Association Student Committee on Educational Policy.