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Unified Plays By The Rules

Guest Column Steven Hall

The Tech's Sept. 12 editorial "Teaching by the Rules" argues that faculty should abide by their own regulations regarding end-of-term assignments and class workloads. I agree with that position and believe that most other faculty do as well.

Unfortunately, the editorial may lead some readers to conclude that a number of subjects, including Unified Engineering, routinely violate the Institute regulations regarding workload. At best, the editorial implies that I and my staff do little more than "pay lip service" to the workload demands on students in Unified. At worst, the editorial implies that we intentionally violate faculty regulations.

As lead instructor for Unified, I can tell you that the implication that we violate faculty rules, either intentionally or unintentionally, is simply untrue. The staff of Unified goes to great lengths to ensure that the workload of Unified is consistent with the subject units, something that The Tech could have confirmed by speaking with me before publishing the editorial.

First, what is the responsibility of professors regarding workload? Faculty Regulation 2.82 states that "No instructor shall require more outside work than can be satisfactorily performed under ordinary working conditions in the preparation time assigned to the course by students of average capacity, adequate preparation, and reasonably good habits of work; and, in order that this rule may be practically enforced, each instructor is expected from time to time to ascertain the amount of outside preparation actually given to each of his or her courses by students whose work is of passing grade."

In order to comply, the Unified course staff surveys every student on every assignment to determine the time each required. The statistics are reviewed each week at course staff meetings, and when the times reported are too high, we make adjustments. Furthermore, the statistics are reviewed at the end of each term, and broad adjustments are made for the coming year.

How well have we done controlling workload? Better than the editorial implied. For example, in the fall term, Course XVI sophomores register for Unified Engineering I and II (16.010 and 16.020), which together carry a total of 24 units. Students spend nine hours per week in lecture and two hours per week in recitation. This accounts for 11 of the 24 units. In the fall term of 1996, the average student reported spending 10.2 hours per week on home assignments and labs.

In an end-of-term discussion with the class, students reported spending at most about three hours per week in other studying. Thus, the average Unified student spent 24.2 hours per week on the subject - hardly a "massive" overload for a 24 unit subject. In the spring, our students take Unified Engineering III and IV (16.030 and 16.040). My data shows that the average student spent 26.2 hours per week on Unified during the term - higher than I would like, but not "massive" compared to the 24 units associated with the subject..

The Tech's editorial also missed the mark when it implied that other subjects, like Circuits and Electronics (6.002) and Introduction to Experimental Biology (7.02), exceed their unit limits. In Eta Kappa Nu's Underground Guide evaluation of 6.002, a 15 unit subject, students reported that the subject should be rated at 14.8 units; in the Course Evaluation Guide, 7.02, also a 15-unit subject, was reported as requiring 14.4 hours of work per week. The fact is that students report that these subjects do not exceed the allowable units.

The issue of excessive workloads is complicated by the fact that a student's perception of workload may not always agree with his or her actual workload. For example, the same students whose time logs showed that Unified took 24.2 and 26.2 hours per week in the fall and spring, respectively, reported in Sigma Gamma Tau's Uncle Walter's Guide to Aeronautics and Astronautics, that Unified took 25.7 and 30.7 hours.

The Tech hurts its own cause when it makes sweeping generalizations about faculty unwillingness to comply with faculty regulations. The Tech compounds this error when it makes factual errors in its own editorial, especially when no effort was made to contact either the faculty involved or the chair of the faculty to determine the facts.

Steven R. Hall '80 is an associate professor and assistant chair of the department Aeronautics and Astronautics.