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Letters to the Editor

Are MIT Scheduling
Conflicts Necessary? 

Over the last several years, an increasing number of scheduling conflicts caused by classes that overlap in time and by a general scarcity of desirable classrooms has taken root. For example, I was recently unable to obtain a classroom anywhere at MIT for a Tuesday afternoon recitation in a class with some 30-plus students that I teach, a situation that seems astonishing to me.

As I see it, an important aggravating factor in this situation is the now nearly random choices for class schedules made by professors and departments to suit their personal conveniences. Until some years ago, there existed an unwritten, but well-respected rule at MIT that stated that “all M-W-F classes are to be 1 hour long, and all T-R classes 1:30 hours long, following in regular intervals from 9 a.m. on.” Today, that old rule is largely ignored (or forgotten).

A growing number of classes offered by some departments are now taught only on M-W and are one and a half hours long, often beginning at capricious integer hours without regard for conflicts with other classes. Presumably, the main reason for the shorter class week can be traced back to professors wishing to keep Fridays free, either for research or other purposes.

Some departments now offer a majority of their courses on such an abbreviated weekly schedule. I believe this to be profoundly wrong and the root cause of many needless conflicts. For one, it decreases the opportunity for students to choose their classes — there is now an increased likelihood that a desirable class will conflict with another by at least half an hour. Secondly, the availability of class rooms has decreased drastically over the past several years, and often because of just 30 excess minutes — and don’t blame the ongoing renovations of class rooms for this situation.

In the same way that MIT regulates the “end of term behavior,” (no assignments due on the last week of classes, etc.), the Institute should also regulate for class schedules. I am not saying that it ought to be the traditional schedule of 1 hour on M-W-F, but it should be a consistent, common rule that applies throughout MIT. Is somebody listening?

Eduardo A. Kausel ScD ’74

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

In Praise of the U.S.

Mr. Hunter’s letter to the U.S. Army [
“The Soldier of the Future,” Sept. 20] is, at best, misguided. His two proposed changes to the goals of the Soldier Design competition contain fundamental flaws that undoubtedly stem from his narrow interpretations of the military’s mission and the competition’s overarching challenge to “help the modern soldier both on and off the battlefield.” A soldier’s battlefield is not always trench lines and no-man’s-land: it is whatever setting and whatever mission he is given. The U.S. Military doesn’t just kill people: it is one of the primary channels through which our country provides humanitarian aid in an organized, disciplined, and direct fashion, both domestically and oversees.

The proposal addressing the challenge to develop more efficient batteries to move away from dependency on fossil fuels has clearly been submitted to the wrong branch of the government. A G.I. is unlikely to ask whether the drained charge in his portable electronic device was placed there by wind or coal power; rather, he will be concerned with recharging the batter, and no matter how efficient, batteries will always need charging. These suggestions should be submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy, not the U.S. Army.

Mr. Hunter’s response to the challenge of “Water Purification for Remote Locations” is unnecessarily political — the government can’t use such technology to help the residents of New Orleans after Katrina’s destruction because it hasn’t been invented yet. Should a useful object of this nature be produced, it would certainly benefit civilians with no potable water, not just the gun-toting grunts.

My message to Mr. Hunter is to heed his own sermon of “as we sow, so shall we reap” and focus his efforts in a manner that is more helpful to the common good. He should be praising the U.S. Army for taking the initiative to develop technologies that help not only their soldiers, but have the potential to help humanity at large.

Arthur J. Franke

Class of 2007