On Monday, August 27, all MIT undergraduate and graduate students received an email with personalized links to a survey regarding Independent Activities Period (IAP). The email was signed by the IAP Subcommittee of the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC). The subcommittee is chaired by Course 7 (Biology) professor Lisa A. Steiner and consists of UA representatives, GSC representatives, faculty members, and some administrators. The students were selected from members of the FCP and the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP), said subcommittee member Ravi M. Charan ’14.
The IAP Subcommittee was announced in the January/February 2012 Faculty Newsletter (FNL) by Aaron R. Weinberger, Human Resources/Faculty Governance Administrator in the Office of the President and Staff to the IAP Subcommittee. There has not been a “comprehensive review” of IAP since 2000. Although the subcommittee originally planned on presenting a preliminary report to the FPC at the end of the spring semester and reporting its final findings “early in the fall 2012 term,” it did not do so and has pushed back the time line in order to get more input.
“Once we get all the survey data, we have to analyze it,” said Lisa Steiner, chair of the IAP Subcommittee. “I would say that we would have a preliminary report at the end of this fall semester at the earliest, maybe even at the beginning of the spring semester. We’re not certain about the time line.”
When the survey was finalized, it was already close to finals week, said subcommittee member Bryan Owens Bryson G. Instead of sending out the survey then — anticipating low response rates because students were studying — the subcommittee decided to hold off until the beginning of the fall semester. As such, no decisions have been made, said Steiner.
The survey featured questions addressing the length of IAP, whether students took for-credit academic classes during IAP, whether those classes were taken with “the primary purpose” of fulfilling Institute or department requirements, and how people used IAP both on- and off-campus.
“We’re still in the information-gathering phase. The student survey is just one component, and faculty were engaged in different channels” said Bryson. “We understand that we have to utilize different perspectives in the community, and perhaps [after the survey] there will be a more targeted followup.”
Since its inception in 1971, IAP has undergone significant changes. According to data in Weinberger’s FNL update, “the number of graduate subjects offered has increased by 125 percent and undergraduate subjects by 59 percent” since 1991,
At the Dec. 21, 2011, faculty meeting Prof. Henry Smith “raised the issue of the evolution of IAP,” particularly regarding the for-credit activities now offered during that time, “some of which appear to be quasi-mandatory.” At that meeting, then-President Susan J. Hockfield confirmed that the FCP had charged an ad hoc subcommittee to evaluate IAP.
The subcommittee, according to Steiner, meets every other week, and began meeting at the beginning of the calendar year, said Bryson.
“I encourage students to respond to the survey,” said Steiner, noting that if they only receive a handful of responses, the survey data would not be very useful.