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CAP Moves to Shore Up Incomplete Policy

By Stacey E. Blau
News Editor

The Committee on Academic Performance is in the process of preparing a new proposal which may toughen the current system of incomplete grading.

"The intent of the change is to kind of firm up the system," said Chair of the CAP Kerry A. Emanuel '76, professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. "There is really a rather large number of incomplete grades on the records."

Under the new policy, students and professors "will both have to sign a kind of contract spelling out how the student will make up the work," Emanuel said. "The work will have to be made up before the add date of the next semester."

"If the student does not complete the requirements, the instructor will be required to turn in a grade based on the work already done," Emanuel said.

Current policy is lenient

"MIT's policy is much less stringent than the policies that a lot of the Ivy League Schools have," Emanuel said. "Few other schools will allow professors to hand out incompletes except under special circumstances." Even with the changes, MIT will still have by far the most lax of standards, he said.

Under MIT's current policy, students can receive incompletes for a variety of reasons and have a long and indeterminate period of time to make up the work and receive a grade. "A lot of students who are graduating still have incompletes on their records," Emanuel said. "That's a problem that needs to be resolved."

If the new proposals are put into effect, no incompletes could be assigned for the semester a student graduates. "All incompletes simply have to be resolved by the grader before a student graduates," Emanuel said. This stipulation would not apply to students who are staying on for an additional degree.

Students will still be able to petition the CAP to explain special circumstances and extend the deadline for finishing up work. "There's always that flexibility in the system at MIT," Emanuel said.

The proposals will likely go to the faculty this spring to be voted on.

In the meantime, faculty and students can give some thought to the proposals and communicate their opinions on them, Emanuel said.

"We've been talking about changing the policy for about a year. We sort of fine-tuned it this year," Emanuel said.

There was not too much emphasis on including outside input on the proposals during their initial formulation. "We didn't think it was quite as important as the plus/minus grading decision."

The proposals "aren't a radical change from what it was like before," Emanuel said.

Policy may be tough to enforce

"Certainly this is something the CAP has a lot of experience with, but I wonder if the new policy would have real teeth," said Chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program Charles Stewart III, professor of political science.

"It would probably require a greater diligence on the part of the faculty member to kind of dog the students to make sure that they do their work," Stewart said.

It is not clear that faculty members will be willing to toughen their policies on students. "Faculty members around here are softies when it comes to giving students the benefit of the doubt when they're grading," he said.

Stewart said that he worries that the policy really does not solve the problem of students taking too many classes. "Students shouldn't be taking as many courses as they're taking," Stewart said. "That's what causes them to fall behind and need incompletes."

"A big problem is that advisors ignore their responsibility to students to make sure that they don't take too many classes," he said.

Some students are opposed to changing the policy. "I think the policy should be flexible," said Douglas S. De Couto '97. "There are enough pressures on students.

"You might as well give the students who are going to make it through the flexibility. A lot of people need breathing room," De Couto said. "But at the same time, it is to your advantage to finish off your work quickly."

But others think the change would be for the better. "I think the current policy is too lenient," said Jennifer A. Pinson '98. "With the new policy, you'd still have IAP after the fall semester and the whole summer after the spring plus the time until add date to complete the material.

"I would support any policy change to a more strict system," Pinson said.

"If you're going to have to finish your course work in three or four years, you may already forget it," said Eric N. Sit '99. "I think the new time period is probably reasonable."