Calendar schedule may threaten IAP
By Katherine Shim
The future of Independent Activities Period may well hinge on discussions and investigations
of an upcoming calendar change committee to be formed early this spring, according to Henry D. Jacoby, professor of management and chair of the faculty.
Two years ago, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program strongly recommended that a total review of the academic calendar be undertaken, said Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, dean for undergraduate education.
The need for calendar reforms arose from concern over the increased pressure of night-time classes and exams and the uneven length of the fall and spring terms. Depending on the year, there are between 61 and 63 class days during the fall, while the spring term is usually 64 days long.
The calendar committee is expected to consider a wide range of options, including the possibility of beginning the academic year in August and the elimination of IAP, MacVicar said.
A calendar overhaul would require reconsidering the role of Residence/Orientation week, the family life of faculty and staff, student work schedules, children's vacations from school and research demands and schedules.
IAP is important component
IAP has been described as "the most contentious component" of calendar reform and "discussion of most calendar problems seems to evolve sooner or later into
an IAP debate," Jacoby wrote in
the MIT faculty newsletter last November.
"One of the things that [Associate Dean for Student Affairs] Travis Merritt and I have done," said Linn W. Hobbs, professor of materials science and chair of the IAP Policy Committee, "is to visit various department heads, the president and the provost.
"We are doing our own thinking, but the two issues [IAP and calendar changes] are inextricably linked," Hobbs said.
The faculty is currently divided into three camps on the future of IAP, according to Jacoby.
One group advocates the complete removal of IAP, saying that the time would be better spent
by extending the fall and spring terms. Lengthened terms, they explain, would do much to alleviate the pressure on students and faculty.
A second group supports the concept of a month-long IAP, but wishes to increase the number of credit-bearing subjects and sustained activities. This position was supported by the IAP Policy Committee report, released in
the fall, which recommended increased faculty involvement in IAP.
The third camp wishes to leave IAP alone, describing it as a necessary break in a stressful academic year.
"[Though] the department [of electrical engineering] does not have a stand on IAP," said Paul L. Penfield Jr. '60, head of the electrical engineering and computer science department, "I personally feel that too much time is lost from the fall and spring semesters, and lengthened terms would help solve some pace and pressure problems.
"This may or may not have an impact on IAP, and I would like the possibility of starting the fall term early to be examined," Penfield continued.
Hobbs expressed his support for IAP saying, "My own personal view is that it is inconceivable that a university like MIT with such a diverse range of faculty and students can't find some room to investigate alternative ways of creating and learning."
The future of IAP is also to be subject to debate over the necessity of a five-year engineering program, according to Mary Z. Enterline, associate dean of the Undergraduate Academic Support Office and a member of the IAPPC. Over four years, IAP time would add up to four months, the equivalent of one term, she said.
Though the issue of a five-year engineering program is separate, "you're not going to get that fifth year by going on a trimester or quarter system or extending the term, thinking that you can cram in a lot more," Hobbs said.
Though statistics have not yet been compiled, student involvement in IAP was strong, according to Alice M. E. LaPierre, senior staff associate in the UASO. The apparent increase in student participation was attributed to the distribution of a separate IAP Timetable in December and the increased number of credit-bearing courses offered.
But many courses were still oversubscribed, Enterline said, with more than 100 students signing up for a single language class in the first week after the IAP Guide was distributed.
Enterline noted that the recommendation of the fall IAPPC report for increased faculty involvement did not have a chance to be implemented in time for IAP '91. Departments are currently working on IAP '92 programs, and the next IAP should show whether departments have taken to heart the need for more sustained activities.