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Calendar changes proposed

By Linda D'Angelo

An ad hoc faculty committee has recommended that the final exam period at the end of both the fall and spring terms be extended to five days.

The proposal, a "minimum impact quick-fix," is in response to the marked increase in the number of finals given each term, according to committee member William M. Siebert '46, professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

The current spring term final exam period consists of a three-day reading period, followed by a three-day final exam period. The ad hoc committee recommends adding add one day to the reading period and two days to the exam period.

The proposal points out that the spring exam period cannot be extended without moving the date of Commencement substantially, so instead, the committee would provide the three additional days by eliminating the two-day vacation period that follows the Independent Activities Period and by shortening Presidents' Day vacation to one day.

The proposal emphasizes that "IAP, the current spring vacation, the date of Commencement, and the total number of class days in the spring term would not change from the current calendar."

With the two-day weekend omitted, spring registration day would be moved from Monday, as it is currently scheduled, to the preceding Thursday. IAP would still end on Wednesday. Classes would then begin Friday, two class days earlier than under the current system.

The last day of classes for the spring term would be moved back three class days to Monday. To preserve the current balance of 38 MWF classes and 26 TR classes, the last Monday would follow the Tuesday schedule of classes.

The current fall term final exam period consists of a four-day reading period and a four-day exam period. The ad hoc committee, however, has proposed that the last reading day be shifted to an exam day to "provide a three-day reading period and a five-day final exam period without making any other changes in the fall term calendar."

This is the extent of the proposed changes to the fall schedule. The committee "did not really do much with the fall because there were much bigger constraints," according to Chemistry Professor Frederick D. Greene II. Greene, a member of the ad hoc committee, said "the whole term would have had to start earlier for any lengthening of that exam period."

Dean for Undergraduate Education Margaret L .A. MacVicar '65 has recommended that the proposal be established as an ad hoc measure for a set three-year period from fall 1990 to June 1993.

During this period, the Faculty Policy Committee will take up a broad set of calendar issues. "Provisions for adequate Final Exam periods will be a part of the overall changes resulting from this comprehensive review," according to the proposal.

With the "sunset provision," the proposal could be adopted by the faculty with a three-fifths majority, without formally amending the faculty regulations.

Marked increase in

number of finals

The proposal of the ad hoc committee is a response to what it sees as the increasing congestion of final periods -- the number of finals given has been rising while the number of days has remained constant. Last spring, 700 students had four or more finals within the three-day exam period.While the number of finals given during the exam period has [strongly] increased, the number of exam days remains constant.

The result is inadequate preparation time for students and, due to an increase in the number of conflict exams, an inadequate amount of time for faculty members to grade the exams thoroughly, Siebert said. The proposed schedule will mean "more time for students to prepare and less need for conflicts," he explained.

The committee hoped that the proposal would "make it easier for students to take final exams, and allow professors to give" them, Groisser said. And Greene felt that the "absolute overriding reason is to try to spread out exam period."

The finals requirement for all Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Distribution (HASS-D) courses is a major reason for the increase in the number of finals administered during exam periods, Greene said. This accounts for approximately 40 percent of the increase.

A "growing perception among students and faculty that exams are a useful device which helps to bring things together" at the end of a course may also account for the increase, Siebert said. This can be attributed, in part, to "the growing feeling among faculty that undergraduate education ... should be more rigorous," according to the proposal.

While there is "value to students being able to review systematically the material for a course," there is "not much reason for exams if students have to take five in three days," Greene said. "That's not much of an educational experience," he noted.

Some faculty opt for no final

The difficulties of conflict exams and grading deadlines under the current schedule "is a factor" in the decision of some faculty members not to give finals, Greene said.

Siebert agreed, saying that "when the hassle of giving an exam becomes greater than the perceived benefit, you question the value of giving one."

To illustrate this point, the proposal cited Physics II (8.02), which last year had to schedule four different conflict exams. This term the professor who teaches 8.02 "is not giving a final because of the compression of the exam period," Siebert said.

This is a "serious problem," according to committee member George F. Koster '48, professor of physics. "Making decisions about giving exams based on the length of the exam period, sounds like the wrong reason to me," he said.

Proposal discussed by FPC

Formed with some stimulus from Registrar David S. Wiley '61, the ad hoc committee includes: Greene, Koster, Siebert, Architecture Professor Leon B. Groisser '48, Dean of the Graduate School Frank E. Perkins '55, Mathematics Professor James R. Munkres, and Aeronautics and Astronautics Professor Winston R. Markey '51.

From the beginning, the committee was "very anxious to get as wide as possible input into this process" Siebert said. After informally discussing the proposal with faculty, the committee formally discussed it with the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, he explained.

The proposal was then brought to the Faculty Policy Committee, where it is currently being considered, according to FPC member Elizabeth L. Williams '90. While FPC "agreed with the proposal," she said, "they did not think that they were a representative sampling." Williams also noted that FPC "specifically wanted student input."

From the FPC, the proposal will be presented to the faculty for a vote. Ideally, the committee wants the proposal to be "approved at the March faculty meeting," Groisser said.

"In order to be fair to everyone, things that deal with next year need to be decided on early enough" so that the registrar has the time he needs to plan the schedule, Siebert said.

The ad hoc committee, "recognized a real need for feedback from students," Greene said. Committee members have spoken individually with students, who "seem happy with our proposal for the spring semester," he added.

Siebert also wanted "an opportunity for students to discuss it." However, he felt that certain details needed to be worked out first, so that students can "have definite things to discuss." The committee is currently trying to sample students responses on the committees before directly discussing it with students, he said.

Committee members seemed optimistic that the proposal would receive support from the faculty. "I think that people [faculty and students] have felt, on reflection, that yes, there is a problem and this is a reasonable way to deal with it," Siebert said.

"Groups who have seen [the proposal] so far, seem favorably disposed towards it," Greene said. He thought it "likely that this response would extend" to the rest of faculty.

While the proposed changes should temporarily relieve the situation, there is a "real need for a long term look at the academic calendar," Greene said.

According to Siebert, "the major component of the proposal is to raise the awareness of all concerned that we have some serious calendar problems." The committee has tried "to encourage a comprehensive look at a variety of calendar issues," he added.

UA seeks student input

The Undergraduate Association sent each student a copy of the proposed calendar yesterday, in an effort to "get the basic information about the proposal out to students," according to UA Vice President Andrew P. Strehle '91. Copies of the new calendar were also distributed at the UA meeting last week.

Attached to each calendar was a request from the UA for comments about the proposal. Instead of "numbers of who is for and against" the proposal, Strehle hoped that students will take a "more academic approach, examining the reasons why [the proposal] is beneficial, or why it is not."

The goal is to have "some sort of opinion by March 8," the date of the next FPC meeting, Strehle said.