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Sept. Day Off to Fall on Rosh Hashanah

By Daniel C. Stevenson
News Editor

Three motions were passed and two plans were presented at Wednesday's regular meeting of the faculty.

A motion to move the class holiday in September 1995 to coincide with the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, was approved. Also, an experimental plan for restructuring the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Distribution requirement by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program was presented at the meeting.

Motions to create Masters of Engineering programs in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering passed unanimously. The motions were made and discussed at last month's meeting.

President Charles M. Vest presented some recent changes in the MIT retirement plan approved by the Corporation. Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics John R. Hansman Jr., chair of the Committee on Faculty-Administration, provided an update on faculty retirement issues.

Changing holidays

The placement of this year's September holiday on the third Monday preceeding Columbus Day was "somewhat arbitrary," wrote Professor of Physics Robert L. Jaffe, chair of the faculty, in a Nov. 9 letter to the faculty explaining the Faculty Policy Committee's recommendation for the change next year.

This holiday provides a balance between the number of class days in the fall and spring terms and between the number of Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Tuesday-Thursday classes. It was created in the academic calendar approved by the faculty in May 1993.

The 1995 holiday was originally scheduled on Sept. 18, exactly one week before the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Jaffe, Registrar David S. Wiley, and President Charles M. Vest received several suggestions to move the holiday one week forward to coincide with the Jewish holiday next year, Jaffe said.

The motion passed with more than enough votes to satisfy the three-fifths majority necessary.

Jaffe said the FPC unanimously agreed that "the best resolution for this situation would be to give the Registrar the authority to establish, with advice from the FPC, the specific date of the Monday holiday." The FPC intends to make a motion to that effect at a faculty meeting this spring, Jaffe said.

The current motion was necessary because next year's bulletin and other documents that list the academic calendar .will be printed soon, Jaffe said.

The FPC had voted at its Oct. 27 meeting to recommend the change to the general faculty after "a thorough discussion," Jaffe said. Some members of the FPC felt that the Institute policy regarding student absence for religious observances would be sufficient to address the situation, he said.

"They also worried that this change would invite other requests that would open a debate about the accommodation of religious events within a fundamentally secular institution," Jaffe said. However, "the majority felt this to be a problem specific to the new September Monday holiday, which would not generate further requests."

Calling the motion a "dangerous precedent," Professor of Physics George F. Koster said at Wednesday's meeting that "it worries me to introduce a change, for the first time since I've been here, to accommodate a religious group."

Professor Richard J. Cohen, director of the Harvard-MIT Center for Biomedical Engineering, spoke in favor of the motion. Students, faculty, and staff form a diverse community with many different needs, Cohen said. "It's appropriate for the Institute to address these needs" if it can be done reasonably and without serious inconvenience, he said.

HASS-D regrouping

Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Linn W. Hobbs, chair of the CUP, reported that the committee has decided to reorganize the HASS-D choice requirements on an experimental basis for three years beginning next September.

Hobbs also presented the report of the HASS-D Six-year Review Committee. The HASS-D requirement was established in 1987 to replace the Humanities Distribution (HUM-D) requirement. At the creation of the program, the faculty specified that the CUP was to report in six years on the "integrity, effectiveness, and operation of the distribution component."

The committee, chaired by Associate Dean in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Harriet Ritvo, recommended in the report that "most features of the present system be retained, including the division of HASS-D subjects into five categories, the Athena-based lottery for class assignments, and the elimination of senior preferences.

Two alterations were also recommended: changing the requirement for a final examination to a requirement for a culminating exercise, and redistributing the category choice requirements.

Currently, students take one subject from categories 1 (literary and textual studies) or 2 (language, thought, and value), one from categories 4 (cultural and social studies) or 5 (historical studies), and one from any category not previously chosen. A choice from category 3 (visual and performing arts) is not specifically required.

The Ritvo committee recommended changing the requirements so that students take one subject from categories 1, 2, or 3; one from categories 4 or 5; and one from any category not previously chosen.

"It is anticipated that this slight modification will encompass the arts within the HASS-D requirement structure without significantly affecting the distribution of enrollments among the five categories," according to the committee report.

Last spring, the CUP reviewed the committee's report and voted to accept all of its recommendations except the regrouping of categories, Hobbs said. Concerns of the committee members included possible enrollment shifts detrimental to certain sections or subjects and the possibility of students fulfilling the HASS-D requirement without taking a subject with a strong textual orientation, he said.

This fall, the CUP renewed the discussion and decided to implement the regrouping on an experimental basis for three years beginning next September, Hobbs said. In October 1998, the CUP chair will appoint a committee to evaluate the results of the experiment and to conduct a review of the entire HASS requirement, he said.