Faculty Approve Longer CalendarBy Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief
The faculty voted last Wednesday to extend the Institute calendar year, passing a version of the Institute Calendar Committee's recommendations revised by Professor of Physics Robert L. Jaffe.
The new calendar will extend the length of each semester to 65 class days in most years, and lengthen Independent Activities Period to a full four weeks. The faculty also intends to allow departments to offer a single required course only during IAP.
The calendar, passed by an 83<\!->13 vote, is a compromise between the current calendar and the calendar committee's original proposal, which called for a 67-day semester and would have shortened the summer by two weeks.
The length of the summer vacation remains largely the same under the new calendar because it does not extend the semester into weeks that are currently part of the vacation. Instead it eliminates vacation days at the beginning of the first week of fall classes and at the end of the last week of the spring term.
Beginning in the 1994-95 academic year, the fall term will begin on the first Wednesday after Labor Day and the spring term will begin on the first Tuesday in February. Exam periods will run from Monday to Friday in both semesters.
Role of IAP debated
Jaffe argued that the new calendar is essentially as long as the calendar committee's original proposal because it adds teaching days during IAP in one of four years.
"The academic content of IAP would be increased significantly. This would have the effect of allowing departments to have students spend at least one intense IAP during their four academic years here," Jaffe said.
Increased flexibility and reduced pressure were the primary motivations behind the changes in IAP, Jaffe said. "There is no increase in the size of departmental programs, so hopefully [moving a class to IAP] will reduce the pressure on students," he said.
According to Jaffe, departments are given the option of offering a class only during IAP because of the difficulty of developing two versions of a course -- one for a regular semester and one for IAP. Eliminating the need for a department to teach a class during the semester would allow it to devote more time to IAP, he said.
Faculty members who spoke at the meeting gave the new IAP policy mixed reviews, but the majority seemed to agree with Hale V. Bradt PhD '61, professor of physics.
"I would imagine that focusing on one subject for a month could be one of the most productive, fun times of a career," Bradt said.
Critics of the proposal said that requiring students to pursue intense studies during IAP would greatly increase the pace and pressure of the academic year.
Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Elizabeth J. Garrells, a member of the Institute Calendar Committee, said, "Students who are in majors with required courses during IAP, one out of their four undergraduate years would have a relentless experience where pace and pressure was exacerbated."
"This is of central importance to the students. Of course, one of the ways you increase pace and pressure is to eliminate those breaks between semesters," Garrells continued. Garrells did not support the revised calendar proposal.
Professor of Electrical Engineering Alvin W. Drake '57 supported the proposal while expressing the concern about the use of IAP. "I think that the free extension of courses into IAP is probably a terrible idea," he said.
The actual motion passed by the faculty made no mention of the use of IAP for required coursework. Instead, approval of courses offered during IAP will be handled by the faculty's IAP Policy Committee and Committee on Curricula.
The chair of the IAP Policy Committee, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Lawrence Bacow, endorsed the proposal on behalf of the committee. "For a number of years, we have tried to increase the number of credit-bearing classes during IAP," he said. "We think there are creative ways to use IAP so that it reduces pace and pressure."
Others criticized calendar
A handful of faculty members present spoke against the new calendar.
John V. Guttag, professor of computer science and engineering, speaking for himself and Barbara H. Liskov, professor of computer science and engineering, said, "We disagree with the basic premise that the length of the academic calendar should be increased. We also object to moving work into IAP."
"I'm quite confident that if offered an extra three class days, [professors] will not spread out the material over three more lectures, but increase the amount of material taught. The current calendar is superior even to the [Jaffe calendar]," Guttag said.
Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker said that MIT students already cover substantially more material than students at other institutions. The new calendar "is a significant reduction in the quality of life."
Vernon M. Ingram, professor of biology, offered much broader comment on the problems of the calendar. He congratulated Jaffe for improving the calendar proposal, but expressed concern about "end-of-semester crunch."
"I wonder whether there aren't some other alternative ways of dealing with the end-of-semester crunch within [the Jaffe calendar]. What I'm suggesting is an academic calendar whereby half the large undergraduates classes begin in January and end in April, finals and all, and the other half begin in February and end in May," Ingram said.
"This kind of overlapping scheme, which still requires only one registration day, would go a long way towards eliminating the end-of-semester crunch," Ingram continued. There was no discussion of Ingram's idea at the meeting.