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SCEP Discusses Educational Policy, Advising System

This is the first of a series of weekly interviews with members of different Undergraduate Association committees. These interviews will be conducted by The Tech’s news editors and members of the editorial board. UA Vice President Ruth Miller (also a Tech opinion staff writer) will be present during these interviews as well. Questions for the UA committee members should be sent to uaqa@the-tech.mit.edu the same week they are featured. Responses to these questions will be printed alongside the following week’s interview.

This week’s committee is the Student Committee on Educational Policy. The Tech talked to SCEP Chairs Toyya A. Pujol-Mitchell ’07 and Shreyes Seshasai (also The Tech’s technology director).

The Tech: What is SCEP’s main mission?

SCEP: Our mission is to improve the educational experience at MIT by addressing students’ needs through policy and eliminating negative stresses in our environment. We’re trying to improve educational policy on campus by doing a variety of things, including collecting feedback from undergraduates and acting as a liaison between the students and administrators. We’re also responsible for enforcing academic violations that are set by the faculty.

TT: What projects are SCEP involved in?

SCEP: This term, SCEP is focused on two areas. Half of our committee is working with the Student Advisory Committee on the Recommendations of the Task Force, so they’re working on getting student feedback. The other half of the committee is working on a new guide to educational policy. We’re also finishing up a project from last term which involved creating a brochure on undergraduate advising, which gives tips to students on how to make the most out of the advising system at MIT.

TT: What types of information will go into the guide to educational policy?

SCEP: It will include information about academic regulations, and where to go if students have any problems relating to their academic life.

TT: How does SCEP act as a resource for students?

SCEP: SCEP acts as a way for students to express their opinions to the administration. We act as a liaison on a number of issues, most recently on the advising system and now on the recommendations of the task force. Students can come to us if they have any problems in general with their educational experience here, and we’ll work to both convey those opinions to the administration and see what we can do to fix it.

TT: How can students reach you?

SCEP: Students can always e-mail ua-scep@mit.edu with any suggestions or comments. Our meetings are open to the general student body, and we meet Sundays at noon in the UA office. If students need to contact us about a violation, they can fill out the form linked to from http://web.mit.edu/ua/www/committees/scep/.

TT: Can you expand more on the advising guide?

SCEP: The guide includes information on how students can be proactive in seeking advice from a variety of sources, and a list of some useful resources for students, including the different undergraduate support offices.

TT: Why did you decide to put together a guide? Is there a large demand?

SCEP: The advising guide was started last year because of the results we got from a survey we did of the general undergraduate population last fall. The members of SCEP all had the similar perception that students were dissatisfied with the quality of advising at MIT, and one way we thought we could help was informing students of how to better interact with their advisor.

TT: It seems like this guide is just for students. Does SCEP have any tips for advisors?

SCEP: There has already been an effort in place by some members of the faculty to create a similar brochure for advisors. For example, Course VII [Biology] has one that was distributed to all advisors last year.

TT: How was SCEP involved in the proposed changes to the General Institute Requirements in the report from the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons?

SCEP: SCEP was involved last year with the Student Advisory Committee in discussions over some of what the task force was discussing. Now our main job is to see what students really think of the proposed changes. To accomplish this, we’ve already held a town hall meeting and posted an online forum. We’re also in the process of writing an online survey that will be available to all undergrads. The goal of all of the feedback is to produce a written report summarizing the thoughts and opinions of the students, and this will impact the decisions of the committee created to implement the recommendations.

TT: You talked about having an online survey. What other ways have you tried to include students?

SCEP: The Student Advisory Committee is open to all undergraduates to join. We’re always looking for people to share their opinions and discuss these new recommendations. To join, all you have to do is e-mail edcomm-sac@mit.edu, and which will keep you up-to-date on all of our current meetings and discussions. After the latest town hall, we’re up to 20–30 students on the list.

TT: Then why are there so many students involved? Why not have 10 students on the committee?

SCEP: We want to try to include as many interested people as we can in the discussions. There’s no reason to limit the number of ideas and topics being shared. We imagine that once it’s time to compose the final report, the committee will shrink since the general opinions we want to convey will already have been constructed.

TT: Do you have any opinions on the task force report?

SCEP: It’s hard for us as a committee to have specific opinions on the report for a variety of reasons. As a committee, our goal is to collect feedback and represent what the student body as a whole is thinking. We don’t want to just represent the opinions of our specific committee members, so it’s best to remain neutral. Our job is also to inform students of the recommendations, and not advocate for them specifically. It’s best to let the students decide themselves.

TT: What are the major educational violations?

SCEP: The most common violation is when a professor changes the syllabus after the third week of class. There are a bunch of other important regulations that can be seen online at http://web.mit.edu/faculty/termregs/. (See the table on this page.)

TT: What does SCEP do when there is a violation?

SCEP: SCEP will first determine if the violation is valid, and if so, we contact the professor and ask that it is changed. Usually professors are very good about making changes.

TT: Do you have a final message for students? More information about how to get involved?

SCEP: SCEP is always looking for suggestions on projects it can do to better the undergraduate educational experience. If you have an idea, or would like to get involved, send us an e-mail at ua-scep@mit.edu, or come to one of our meetings held on Sundays at noon.