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Calendar Proposal Debated by Faculty

By Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief

A handful of faculty members discussed a proposal to lengthen the academic calendar and start classes before Labor Day at Wednesday's faculty meeting.

The proposal, developed by the Institute Calendar Committee, was outlined by the committee's chairman, Professor Robert J. Silbey, head of the department of chemistry.

The proposed calendar would increase the number of teaching days in each term to 67 and lengthen Independent Activities Period to 19 class days. Under the new calendar, classes would start before Labor Day in three of the next seven years and effectively shorten the summer break by about two weeks.

The primary impetus for the calendar change was to provide more teaching days in each semester and to make the terms equally long, Silbey said. "One of the problems that confronted us was that the terms are not of equal length. This is something we felt caused some problems for teaching and education in general," he said.

Silbey formally moved the proposal, which may be voted on at the May 19 faculty meeting. Other faculty members may introduce their own calendar proposals before the meeting, but that could delay a vote of the calendar until September, according to Professor of Ocean Engineering J. Kim Vandiver, chair of the faculty.

Increases teaching days

Silbey and President Charles M. Vest each made introductory comments supporting the increase in teaching days. Both stressed that the current calendar provides substantially fewer teaching days than the calendars at most major research universities.

"What you see before you is the optimum proposal as they [the committee] saw it. I hope we can avoid too much tinkering and microscopic changes," Vest said.

The longer teaching schedule also won support from Lester C. Thurow, dean of the Sloan School of Management. "I would like to support the idea of extra teaching time. You just don't get it done in 120 to 125 teaching days," he said.

Faculty criticism of the plan at the sparsely-attended meeting was focused primarily on three areas: the way IAP is used, increasing pace and pressure, and the shortened summer break. Undergraduate Association President-elect Hans C. Godfrey '93 and Graduate Student Council President Anand Mehta G also spoke out against the proposed changes.

"I feel concern about anything that increases the amount of time students are under the intense pressure they feel at this place," said Professor of Biology Graham C. Walker, a former housemaster at McCormick Hall.

Walker's concerns were echoed by Godfrey, who feels "that adding a week to each term will not benefit the students and will have a greater possibility of hurting them both financially and in terms of pace and pressure."

Would strain finances

Students discussing the proposal at last week's UA Council meeting also expressed concern about financial pressures. At that meeting, UAC member Jason J. Seid '96 estimated that undergraduate students would lose between $700 and $1000 of income because of the shorter summer.

According to Mehta, graduate students face many of the same financial concerns. He was concerned that "the attitude taken towards graduate students was not appropriate. Less than half the graduate students actually register during the summer for research or thesis. Cutting out two weeks of the summer can be quite a burden on [the other student's] finances," he said.

Walker and David H. Friedman, associate professor of the history of architecture, were also concerned about the shortened summer's effect on faculty research efforts.

Friedman explained that he and his colleagues found teaching duties so time-consuming that it was difficult to spend enough time on research. The summer break is essential for research projects, he said.

"Those people that do their research away from their offices here need to have that time [over the summer]. To take those two weeks away is ultimately a destructive act," Friedman said.

Walker said that during the six years he was a housemaster, he effectively lost two weeks of time during the summer to administrative duties. "It's a big chunk out of the unrestricted time I can spend on my research," Walker said. "I think it's going to be a substantial burden."

Role of IAP questioned

Various interpretations of the purpose and use of IAP were at the heart of several faculty members' criticism of the calendar proposal.

Professor of Physics Robert L. Jaffe suggested that some required classes be offered over IAP. "We could redefine IAP so that it extends the amount of teaching time for those departments that want it," he said.

Godfrey, who spoke on a behalf of a group of interested students, said, "Most people we spoke with felt that three and a half weeks was unsatisfactory for teaching their courses and we feel that to increase the number of credit-giving courses during IAP, it needs to be four weeks." He endorsed giving IAP a more academic focus.

Thurow observed that although IAP is voluntary for students, "IAP was not supposed to be voluntary for faculty. Every faculty member was supposed to teach during IAP."

Silbey, however, said there was little support among the faculty for a more academically rigorous IAP. "There is no strong feeling on the grounds of pressure and pace to force students to be here during IAP or forcing faculty to teach," he said.

Walker suggested that IAP could be shortened to maintain the length of the summer. Silbey agreed that if IAP were shortened to "a two week truly independent period" that the summer break could be lengthened.