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Evening Classes Are Not Fair for Graduate Students

Column by Erik S. Balsley
sports editor

As any student knows, time is a severe limiting factor in determining what you can do on any day. If you are a member of a varsity sports team, performing arts group, or other student activity, these pressures are increased, since extra time must be scheduled to participate in them. In recognition of this fact, faculty rules prohibit classes during certain times. Unfortunately, graduate classes are not included under the rule, forcing unfair and uncomfortable decisions them.

Article 2.11.1 of the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty states: "It is the intent of the faculty that for undergraduate subjects there shall be no required academic exercises between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 1 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Monday."

It is my understanding that this rule was originally developed to allow undergraduates a time to practice a sport, instrument, or to just grab dinner. It also serves to let students know there is a time each day where they can be free of class pressures.

However, this statement has a large loophole: Where are graduate students mentioned? To me, this is a tremendous oversight.

As the number of five-year programs increases, so too are the number of fifth-year students who are classified as graduate students during their fifth year. Because of their four previous undergraduate years, these students still maintain strong ties to their undergraduate living groups and activities.

If such an activity is a varsity sport - most of which practice during or in part of the 5 to 7 p.m. open window - conflict may arise. Fifth-year students, despite their affiliation with varsity sports, are classified as graduate students. Any graduate subjects that they be taking could potentially be scheduled during the 5 to 7 p.m. slot.

Here's where the problem begins. I personally am a member of the varsity lightweight crew team and happen to be enrolled in a five-year program. Last semester, I had two classes that began in the Institute's 5 to 7 no-fly zone. The previous semester I had to attend a colloquium series during, of all times, 5 to 7 p.m. I needed to take all three classes for my graduate degree.

It was an extremely difficult decision to make each week. Should I attend class or practice?While class appears to be much more important than practice, making the decision painfully clear, the subtleties of the situation cloud up things.

For one thing, participation in a sport not only exercises the body physically - at MIT it takes on another mental aspect. Participation helps to release some of the stress of the day and gives students a focus for each day. Practice for students takes on added meaning.

Now add in the teamwork aspect. When you participate on a team, it's not just you involved. There is a commitment to the others on the team. By not attending practice you let the others down. In addition, the team can not improve as a whole.

What I just described for a sport can be true for any other activity a student may be involved in. That is why the 5 to 7 p.m. activity window is so important. In my case, that window was closed with my fingertips on the sill.

Fifth-year students are not the only students the oversight may hurt. Regular graduate students may be dissuaded from participating in activities if their classes are scheduled in this timeframe. In fact, most Graduate Student Council meetings occur at 5:30 p.m.

As the number of five-year programs grows, I believe the number of people with situations similar to mine will increase. Although graduate and undergraduate life are different, they are not that much different in regard to activities. As graduate students become more involved with campus activities, they may run into problems with classes in the no-fly zone. Although most departments abide by this rule for allclasses, some do not. For graduate students who run into conflicts with scheduled classes, there is no protection provided. They, like me, must choose between two important parts of their MIT experience.

In an ideal situation, all activities sponsored by the Institute would be prevented from taking place between 5 and 7 p.m. In the meantime, the faculty can take a step in the right direction by banning all academic classes scheduled during that time, regardless of whether the classes are undergraduate or graduate.

Erik S. Balsley is a graduate student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, a member of the varsity lightweight crew team, and the former vice president of the Undergraduate Association. He is also The Tech's illustrious spo ed.