I is for Independent
Independent Activities Period started in 1971 to promote two major goals: to give students a breather from the stressful academic year, and to broaden students' perspectives through the pursuit of activities not necessarily tied to their major. Unfortunately, over the past several years IAP has shown a disturbing trend toward regular academics and away from the truly independent activities it was intended to promote. The Tech believes that MIT's administration and faculty should take steps to make IAP more exploratory and more independent of the regular- term academic curriculum.
Academic departments should not exploit IAP as a time to jam more required subjects down the perennial Institute firehose. For example, in Course VIII and an area of Course XII, students are required to take subjects over IAP that are not offered during the regular academic term. Examples of these subjects include Classical Mechanics II and Introduction to Weather Forecasting.
Students in such departments have no choice but to remain at MIT and commit January to coursework. IAP is the ideal time for students to branch out from their regular academic work into fields they might not otherwise have time to explore. This exploration may very well include academic subjects; students can use this period to check out subjects off the main track of their majors and may pick up a few useful credits. Students should also be encouraged to devote IAP to non-academic activities. In addition, students can interact at a more personal level with MIT faculty, who have more free time than usual.
Departments that would like students to do more coursework for their majors should offer those courses during the academic semesters as well. An excellent example of such a course is the ever-popular 10.001, Introduction to Computer Methods. That way, students that who value booksmanship can devote their off-month to more coursework, and students who value a diversity in education can broaden themselves.
IAP has helped to broaden the perspectives of a generation of MIT students. This unique period should not be robbed of the ability to provide an important and disparate supplement to the rest of MIT. It is unfortunate and sad that certain departments would prize the fulfillment of students' majors over the diversity of education that IAPpromotes and was intended to promote upon its creation three decades ago.