Committee Calls for Longer School YearBy Sarah Y. Keightley
The Institute Calendar Committee proposed lengthening the academic year yesterday, ending a year-long effort to increase the number of teaching days each term. The immediate results of the longer calendar year include a shorter summer term, an early start to Residence/Orientation Week, and other more subtle differences.
If approved, the changes would take effect in the fall of 1994.
The committee recommended that each term be lengthened to 67 days, a number it felt should be fairly consistent every year. Under the current calendar, the typical fall term is 61 days and a typical spring term is 64 days.
To allow the longer semesters, classes would start before Labor Day in three of the next seven years. Classes normally start about one week after Labor Day. Commencement would be about one week later than usual.
The calendar committee finished its final draft of the proposal yesterday. Its recommendations will be presented at the April 21 faculty meeting and will be voted on at the May 19 faculty meeting.
UA will hold forum
The Undergraduate Association plans to hold an open forum in late April or early May for all community members, particularly students, to discuss the issue, said Raajnish A. Chitaley '95, UA floor leader. Moreover, the UA will hold a referendum focusing on the calendar proposal, possibly using electronic voting.
"The calendar proposal is very subtle, but it can have a huge effect on undergraduate education," Chitaley said.
Chitaley believes that the shortened summer term is "going to be one of the major issues of concern" because the summer will only be about 10 weeks long. This will affect students' internships and other activities, he said. He added that the committee considered many options when studying the calendar, even switching to a quarter or trimester system.
UA President-elect Hans C. Godfrey '93 agreed that the summer would be greatly affected by the proposal. Not only could it affect students' jobs, it would also affect student activities, including the Interphase program and athletics, which would have to start earlier, Godfrey said.
Godfrey also noted that though the academic calendar would be almost two weeks longer to help reduce the pace and pressure at MIT, these two weeks would be taken away from students' summers, giving students less time away from school.
Broad range of issues
The Institute Calendar Committee was formed a year ago by President Charles M. Vest, and is chaired by Professor Robert J. Silbey.
The major issues the committee addressed were: the length of terms, the length of reading and exam periods, the use of Independent Activities Period, spreading out term vacation periods, the implications of starting Residence/Orientation Week earlier, and the summer term.
The length of the current terms played a large role in the movement to change the calendar. Right now the terms are not of equal length, and according to the committee's proposal, many faculty members want more days to teach.
In an early draft of its proposal, the committee noted that MIT has "substantially fewer class days than the vast majority of universities when IAP is not counted in the total, and fewer than most even when IAP is counted in the total."
The committee referred to a survey included in the proposal to emphasize the short MIT schedule. MIT has between 125 and 127 instruction days, not including IAP. In comparison, most other schools on the semester system have longer terms -- the University of California Berkeley has 160 instruction days and Cornell University has 143.
A handful of schools have fewer instruction days than MIT, including Harvard University with 118-123 and Princeton University with 120; however, these two universities have much longer reading periods and exam periods than MIT. Of the schools on quarter systems, Stanford University has 144 instruction days, the California Institute of Technology has 150, and the University of Chicago has 162-165.
MIT calendar is unique
Godfrey and Chitaley noted that other schools do not have periods similar to our IAP. Most institutions also start classes earlier than we do, they said.
The committee said that most universities on the semester schedule start classes before Labor Day. MIT normally starts classes one week after Labor Day.
The committee agreed at the outset that its recommended calendar would absolutely have to have the fall term end before Christmas day and have to keep IAP.
Under the new proposal the first day of classes would always be the first Wednesday in September. For the fall term there would be five holidays; the Columbus Day break would be shortened to one day and the extra vacation day would be added as Labor Day. There would be a three-day reading period and a five-day exam period. The fall exam period would end no later than Dec. 22.
IAP would be kept as part of the calendar. It would also be lengthened from 17 days to 19 days. This is four full weeks with a day off for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
The spring term would also have 67 class days. In addition, there would be eight holidays, a reading period of four to five days, and an exam period of five days. Commencement would always fall on a Monday in early June.
The summer term would start and end one week later than it does now.
Students comment on calendar
"There wasn't a whole lot that could be changed," said Theodore J. Ko '94, one of two undergraduates on the calendar committee. He said this was due to many constraints, making the proposal a compromise.
According to a survey made last year, most students wanted to keep the current calendar. Ko said that there was a little more push from the faculty, and in his view, this push came "a little bit more from the engineering departments."
Like Ko, Godfrey and Chitaley agreed that the calendar proposal was a complex issue. Chitaley explained that there is "not much leeway" in the calendar.
The calendar proposal will be presented at the UA Council meeting next Monday. The UAC will then vote on holding a referendum near the end of April. Godfrey hopes to run this referendum using electronic voting, similar to the program used in the recent general election. This data could then be presented at the forum, Chitaley added.
According to Godfrey and Chitaley, Vest wants to hear student input and feels very strongly about the forum. "We need to formulate an intelligent response on what we feel and think," Chitaley said.