MIT Reports to the President 1994-95


The Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) has the responsibility for primary oversight of the undergraduate educational program and for setting policy applied and interpreted by the faculty Committees on the Academic Program (CAP) and Curricula (COC). It reports to the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC), which brings to the faculty meetings issues requiring Faculty vote or attention.

Up until this year, support for the work of both the CUP and the FPC was provided by a staff team working in the Office of the President. This year, responsibility for CUP support shifted to the Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs office, and Dean Margaret Enders was named executive officer of CUP. This change has proven beneficial to both the CUP and to UESA, as it has established a stronger coupling between the agenda of the Faculty and the work of the Dean's office and strengthened communications between the two.

During the year, four subcommittees and a number of small working groups were charged to deliberate and report with recommendations to the full membership. These subcommittees drew on the expertise of MIT faculty generally and were a successful way for CUP to review an area in depth prior to its presentation to the full membership.

Throughout the year, the CUP exercised oversight over a large number of ongoing undergraduate educational issues and acted definitively in a number of areas to establish new educational policy. In addition, two educational experiments were approved. In the latter category:

Approval of an incorporation of the arts into the HASS-D Requirement as a four-year experiment
Following a full year of deliberations about the role of the arts in the HASS-D Requirement, CUP revisited the issue in the early fall. For a variety of reasons, the 1993-94 CUP membership had not accepted a compromise proposal from the HASS-D Review Committee that would have assigned a larger role to the arts in the HASS-D requirement. This year's CUP was asked to consider whether an experimental implementation of the Review Committee's proposal might be acceptable, which would include monitoring the enrollment shifts among categories. It was agreed by the Committee (in consultation with SHSS, the Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs, the Dean for Architecture and Planning, and the Associate Provost for the Arts) that an experiment would be instituted. Beginning in September, 1995, students will be required to take one HASS-D subject from category 1 (Literary and Textual Studies), 2 (Language, Thought, and Value), or 3 (Visual and Performing Arts); one from category 4 (Cultural and Social Studies) or 5 (Historical Studies); and one from a category distinct from the other two choices. It was further agreed that a review committee will be appointed in October, 1998, to evaluate the results of the experiment and to conduct a comprehensive review of the entire HASS Requirement. The review committee will be asked to report to the CUP in the spring term of 1999 and will include among its recommendations the conditions and timing of the end of this experiment.

Approval of a three-year experiment using internal intermediate grading for all MIT subjects
Following deliberations by both the CAP and the Committee on Graduate School Policy (CGSP), the CUP undertook a preliminary discussion in January with Professor Nigel Wilson, CAP Chair, regarding a CAP proposal to add plus and minus grades to MIT's grading scheme. The CUP felt that the CAP proposal was somewhat premature and lacked a clear mandate from either students or faculty. Following additional discussion at CAP, CGSP, and FPC, as well as a CAP survey of faculty opinion, Professor Wilson returned to the CUP and was granted approval for a three-year experiment that took into account the sense of the faculty as well as the concerns of many students fearing an undesirable increase in competition and pressure and a reduction in healthy collaboration. The three-year alteration to the grading system that the CUP approved, effective September, 1995, records plus and minus modifiers on the internal grade report only for grades A, B, and C given in all MIT subjects that are computed into a student's grade point average -- graduate as well as undergraduate. This experiment will be monitored by a small faculty committee comprised of student and faculty members from CUP, CAP, and CGSP and chaired by Professor Paul Lagace.

CUP activity during 1994-95 that involved the creation or revision of Faculty policy and practices included the following:

Interdisciplinary minors and the Biomedical Engineering minor program
A small working group was formed to establish general criteria by which interdisciplinary, non-departmental minor programs could be judged. The criteria (including a working definition of an MIT minor; an expectation of subject development and program size; an acknowledgment that the number of subjects in an interdisciplinary minor may vary widely depending on a student's major; the standard by which all departments involved approve and commit to their involvement in this type of minor program; and the role of the COC in reviewing such programs) were accepted by the CUP in December. The work of this group set the standard by which the full CUP could assess the first--but likely not the last--minor degree program that is not also offered as a major: the minor in Biomedical Engineering. This interdisciplinary minor was proposed by a consortium of faculty in the newly formed Center for Biomedical Engineering and led by Professors Linda Cima and Alan Grodzinsky, who worked closely with the CUP, COC, and FPC. Standards and criteria were established to insure that program oversight and subject standards are as close to regular departmental oversight as possible. CUP and FPC members were eventually satisfied that all expectations and standards were well met by the Biomedical Engineering minor program, and it was approved by the Faculty in May, 1995.

Subject overenrollment and use of lotteries
Another small working group was formed between the COC and CUP to review subject overenrollment policies, particularly with respect to lotteries that are being held in subjects that are not part of the HASS-D lottery program. The catalyst for this activity was a series of complaints received by the CUP and the COC regarding lotteries generally: the sense that there is an increasing problem with subject enrollment limitations, that many lotteries give unfair advantage to students who meet certain criteria and seem to operate without any standardized set of practices, that lotteries are held after classes begin and create scheduling chaos, and, finally, that lotteries generally are unconnected to the Registrar's Office and might profit from being so. The working group surveyed departments to assess the extent and nature of lottery practices; surveyed a sample of students about the impact of lotteries on their degree program plans; reworked and updated a draft document produced by the COC outlining expectations and standards for subject overenrollments and lotteries; identified five subjects with chronic overenrollment problems (one lab subject each from biology and chemistry, and one subject each from Writing, Foreign Languages and Literatures, and Music) that were willing to participate in an experimental lottery in advance of the 1995-96 Fall Term; and reported their findings to CUP in May. A key aspect of both the new guidelines and the experimental lottery being conducted over the summer is the involvement of the Registrar's Office that supports efforts by departments to identify subjects with higher-than-expected enrollments early enough so that the departments can take steps to add teaching staff and/or schedule additional sections or administer a lottery that is reflected on the student's class schedule. The CUP has approved the guidelines and the experimental lottery, but reemphasized that it is a serious responsibility of departments to do everything within their power to allocate resources so that students can take subjects that they want, when they want.

Upperclass undergraduate advising
In a series of discussions about the quality of upperclass undergraduate advising, the CUP affirmed its role in establishing and promoting minimum standards for undergraduate advising. Throughout the year, CUP and staff in the UESA provided direction and encouragement to the student-run Baker Foundation, which had chosen as its year-long project to review departmental policies and practices and to undertake a survey of students about their experiences with the upperclass advising systems. At its last meeting of the year, the CUP met with Ms. Arley Kim, `95, head of the Baker Foundation, who presented the findings of their student survey and asked the CUP to assume responsibility for follow-up and support on the issues they uncovered. The issues that most concerned the Baker students were the low expectations students have of their advisors in general; the lack of information about advising options and resources; and the need for improved orientation programs within departments to welcome new majors, train faculty advisors, establish minimum standards, etc. In the early summer, Professors Hobbs and incoming CUP Chair Stewart sent a memo to all department heads outlining the concerns of the Baker Foundation and of the CUP, requesting that changes be made and signalling an increased presence of the CUP on these issues.

Freshman performance evaluation
As was noted in last year's Report to the President, CUP has had a series of discussions with staff in Undergraduate Academic Affairs designed to improve the freshman performance evaluation process. Last year, the CUP permitted UAA to undertake a full-scale experiment that reversed the standard process by which forms are initiated and completed; that is, during the fall term, instructors were asked to initiate the forms and pass their comments on to their students who would in turn complete their portion of the form and pass them back. The goal of these various experiments has been to insure that students obtain feedback about their class performance in a timely fashion, perhaps at the expense of a more thoughtful assessment on the part of the individual freshman. In its report to CUP at the start of the Spring Term, UAA staff, at the behest of a number of faculty who regard the current system as extremely burdensome, proposed an abolition of the universal expectation that all students and instructors exchange performance evaluation forms. Since this practice was part of the original design of the 1972 Pass/Fail grading scheme, extensive discussion took place during early spring, numerous faculty were consulted, and a replacement system was presented to FPC and approved by the Faculty in May. The new system of performance evaluation focuses on students who, based on work done through the beginning of the sixth week of term, are identified to be in danger of not passing a particular subject. In addition to this "Fifth Week Flag," a written notification from instructor to student that includes the expectation of a face-to-face meeting, the CUP has endorsed the system of "freshman watch" letters that are sent to students throughout the term based on quiz performance, and the Faculty have approved the additional proposal that freshmen receive their internal "hidden" grades at the end of the fall term (in the same manner as they are recorded and delivered in the spring term). The CUP appreciates that a loss has been sustained by these changes, in that formal written exchanges will no longer take place between individual students and faculty, but also recognizes that too few faculty and students appear to have taken full advantage of the mechanism mandated.

Following a discussion early in the fall term about how or whether the CUP should discuss aspects of the General Institute Requirements, members decided to focus on three major areas of concern that merited the establishment of working groups. In late October, three subcommittees were charged:

The CUP monitored a number of other on-going programs and new initiatives:


MIT Reports to the President 1994-95