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UA Discusses Calendar Changes

By Eric Richard
Associate News Editor

At last night's Undergraduate Association Council meeting, members of the Institute Calendar Committee addressed students' questions and concerns about the proposal to increase the length of the academic year.

Students emphasized that proposed changes should consider the financial losses and additional stresses which would be placed on them. Many said the present proposal's merits simply do not justify its costs.

Professor of Chemistry Robert J. Silbey, chairman of the committee, and committee members Stephen D. Immerman, director of special services, and Registrar David S. Wiley '61 explained the rationale behind the calendar proposal.

Under the proposal, Independent Activities Period would be extended by two days to four full weeks, and each term would be expanded to have 67 class days. The summer would be shortened by two weeks, and classes would start before Labor Day in three of the first seven years.

The committee's recommendation states that the proposal will "provide more class days, as well as academic terms that are consistent," while still creating "a variety of educational possibilities."

Some faculty want longer terms

"There is a strong feeling among a vocal portion of the engineering faculty that the term is too short to do things -- not that they want to put more things in, but that they can't do things that they have already planned," Immerman said. "They wanted more time for thinking about the topics already in the curriculum."

J. Paul Kirby '92, former UA vice president, suggested that the main problems stemmed from the rapid growth in the engineering disciplines, not from a lack of school days. "It seems as if it is only the engineering disciplines that are pushing for longer semesters. The humanities department doesn't give a damn. ... The management department doesn't give a damn."

President of the Panhellenic Association Marquita C. Gilfillan '94 stressed the idea of weighing the proposal's costs and benefits. "I understand that teachers want more school days, but they are only getting three or four more days of class, at a great cost to us. How much [are those extra days] worth? If we look at the benefit versus the costs, the costs are much greater."

A common complaint among students was the fact that the proposal would do little to alleviate the stress at MIT while still taking away from free time during the summer.

"I've talked to a lot of professors, and they've admitted to the fact that if you increase the number of days, they will add to what they have to teach you," Lilac Muller '93 said. "And yet, those same people will admit that during those 62 days, MIT teaches you one and a half to two times more than any other school in the country."

"I think what we are missing is a little bit of contemplative time to think about what you are learning," Silbey said. "The alternative would be to cram things in a little bit more into some subjects."

Shorter summer a concern

Several students said that the shorter summer would impose a financial burden on them because they would not have as much time to work.

This complaint was emphasized by students in fraternities and sororities who said that because of rush and work week, their summers would be drastically affected. At the meeting, students and faculty gave varying numerical analyses of the effects of the proposal.

"With the way that the rush system works, you are realistically cutting the summer down to nine weeks" for people who come back for Residence/Orientation Week, Gilfillan said.

"Companies do not offer internships for nine weeks," Gilfillian said. "How do you expect MIT students to make $6,600 during the year without being able to get jobs over the summer?"

"That is a substantial concern on our part. That is a cost that the MIT community has to pay to implement this calendar. While it is a concern, and while we understand it to be a concern, I don't know how big a concern it is," Silbey responded.

Mark A. Herschberg '95, a member of the InterFraternity Council and the undergraduate housing chair, further broke down the numbers saying that in order for an MIT student to earn the full $6,600 in self-help over the summer, he or she would need to earn about $15 per hour.

Herschberg added, "If you want the housing system to work, you need the IFC and IFC Rush. You are going to need us to come back for rush. ... Effectively, you are going to need us in mid-August. You are asking me to do too much and promising too much."

IAP versus summer

When Silbey asked the students if they would rather take days from IAP or the summer to make up for additional class days, about 30 percent said that they would prefer to make IAP shorter while only a handful opted for shortening the summer.

However, students were split as to whether they would prefer making up the days through an option requiring students to take classes during IAP.

Silbey explained, "We stopped short of requiring students to be here during IAP. We weren't willing to require them to be here then."

The members of the committee tried to make it clear that their proposal is designed to change, meeting input from the community. "The committee is responding to pressures from lots of places," Silbey said. "If the community really wants to cut IAP down to two weeks and make it totally independent, that's fine with me."

Immerman agreed. "If the students and faculty come back to us and say, `This is not what we want,' we aren't going to push the issue," he said.

However, Silbey also noted that the committee received virtually no input on the proposal. "Still, to this day, the number of letters that we have received is tiny. As far as we could tell, there was no interest at all in this matter, although we did not believe that to be the case."

After the meeting, Raajnish A. Chitaley '95, UAC floor leader, said that the three committee members "responded in the best way that they could, because they are not the people who are going to be making the decisions."

"The real people to convince are the faculty," Chitaley said, emphasizing the need for students to voice their opinions about the schedule to faculty. "I hope that the faculty really begin to discuss and think about the real issues that have been raised by the students and other faculty," Chitaley said. "The most convincing arguments can be made by individual students to their professors. They should make sure that their professor will be attending the next faculty meeting and that they know how students feel."