From The Faculty Chair
Governance Highlights: Year in Review
In this last Newsletter column of the year, I would like to summarize some of the activities of the faculty governance system this academic year.
Our faculty governance system depends critically on faculty willing to serve on committees and as committee chairs. I’m grateful to all those who served this year. For the 2013-14 academic year, more than 100 faculty from 26 departments in all five Schools participated in faculty governance. Faculty served on 11 standing committees, two standing subcommittees, and two award committees.
Around the Institute
This past year has brought several important transitions in administrative leadership. With a new Provost and Chancellor, and an ongoing search for a Director of Libraries, faculty committees have had important opportunities to share their perspectives on the future needs of the Institute. Both Provost Marty Schmidt and Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart have engaged actively with the faculty. Chancellor Barnhart serves on the Faculty Policy Committee as the President’s designated representative.
MITx – and digital learning more broadly – continues to be a central topic of discussion.
With ongoing changes, many faculty have expressed a desire to innovate while preserving what is excellent about our current residential programs. Consequently, the faculty committees are thinking carefully about how new approaches intersect with existing practices.
Managing Educational Change
Inspired by MITx-related innovation, faculty governance has engaged with the Office of Digital Learning and individual faculty to introduce new opportunities. The Committee on Curricula (CoC), in particular, has taken the lead in thinking about the impact of digital experiments. As more and more subject proposals incorporate MITx tools, the Committee has sought to understand the educational rationale for changing existing subjects and to develop assessment criteria for subjects proposed as experiments. The Committee on Graduate Programs (CGP) has also been called upon to discuss proposals for experimental subjects.
At the same time, an ad hoc subcommittee established last spring reported back with recommendations for ensuring oversight, assigning credit, and preserving academic quality as we increasingly integrate online tools into the residential program. In addition to recommending that we apply the credit transfer framework for online coursework, members emphasized the importance of in-person faculty-student interaction. Specifically, they expressed caution that online activities not be used as a substitute for faculty face-time. The full report is available on the faculty Website, and we will ask the faculty committees to consider the subcommittee’s findings next fall.
Noting concerns that came to the attention of the CoC in its review of curricular proposals, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) recently began discussing modularity and the growth in half-term subjects in undergraduate majors and the GIRs. Many of the proposals that have been put forward carry a strong educational rationale; however, the committees are sensitive to ancillary effects.
For example, in recent years, the faculty has reaffirmed its commitment to controlling academic pace and pressure, but half-term subjects could have a significant impact on how final exams are managed, as well as on student workload and the academic calendar. Exam regulations, credit limits, and Registrar processes will all need to keep pace with pedagogical innovation.
In a non-MITx-related experiment, the CUP Subcommittee on the HASS Requirement completed a review of the HASS Exploration (HEX) Program, concluding that this set of subjects should remain a recommended option within the HASS Requirement.
Bringing Clarity to the Curriculum
At both the undergraduate and graduate level, faculty committees have been looking at ways to better communicate with faculty proposing new subjects and students reviewing catalog offerings. The array of complex proposals submitted to the CoC prompted the Committee to examine relationships between subjects. Meanwhile, the CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement has engaged with both instructors and administrative staff in an effort to revise the description and criteria for CI-M (Communication Intensive in the Major) subjects.
In April, the faculty approved a proposal brought by the Committee on Graduate Programs to eliminate the longstanding distinction between G- and H-level subjects. Many found the distinction to be arbitrary and confusing, with little agreement about how to distinguish between G- and H-level subjects. Going forward, all graduate subjects will simply carry graduate (G) credit, meaning that faculty and departments will no longer have to decide what type of credit to seek for different subjects. The CGP has worked for two years to help programs prepare for this transition. Although the vast majority of programs expressed strong support, the Registrar’s office has committed to assisting with any questions. Preparations will begin next year, and the change will go into effect in fall 2015.
Strengthening the Student Experience
The Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid (CUAFA), the Committee on Student Life (CSL), and others have worked closely with the administration to ensure that MIT admits the best students and provides an exceptional experience for those who choose to attend. Several committees have introduced specific resources and policies to provide better support for students.
This spring, the Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) launched a new Website targeted to students and advisors (web.mit.edu/acadinfo/cap/). It provides information on credit limits and petition processes, as well as helpful advice for meeting MIT’s academic standards. Along similar lines, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program has renewed its support for freshman advising. Noting a significant increase in the number of faculty advisors, the Committee invited the administration to partner with the faculty in developing a plan to ensure that every freshman will have a faculty member serving as a mentor or advisor. Late this spring, it also launched discussion on best practices for faculty-student interaction.
In terms of managing credit loads and subject selection, there have been several changes of note. The CoC spent the early part of the year implementing recommendations from last year’s report on IAP, with the aim of preserving and strengthening IAP’s “unique pedagogical opportunities.” For IAP 2014, students and advisors received confirmation of student registrations, and UAAP collected data regarding student participation in non-academic activities. With regard to academic enrollment, the CoC noted that the first drop-off in enrollment in recent years occurred in 2014, but it is too early to draw conclusions. The Committee will continue to monitor the overall situation. For incoming students, multiple committees are working with departments to evaluate how AP scores are used in math and history.
For graduate students, the CGP undertook a review of the thesis hold policy to address concerns raised by students in specific fields seeking publication of a thesis in book form. Such publication can be critical to the career of a young scholar, but some publishers are reluctant to publish a manuscript based on a thesis if the thesis is publically available.
In exceptional circumstances, the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education may now approve requests to limit public access outside of the MIT community to theses for a fixed period.
Finally, the Committee on Discipline (CoD) has continued to review its procedures. In July 2013, the Committee updated its internal guidelines to strengthen its handling of sexual misconduct cases. The faculty also approved changes to the Committee’s charge to expand access, clarify jurisdiction over student living groups, and provide for administrative resolutions. The Committee has found particular success with the introduction of sanctioning panels as a means of responding to certain types of cases where students accept responsibility.
Planning a New Committee
In the January/February issue of the Newsletter, I described the ongoing effort to establish a standing committee on campus planning. At the December faculty meeting, a resolution establishing such a committee was presented by several faculty. After a lively discussion, the matter was referred to the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) for further consideration. The FPC has been working diligently on this issue since then, consulting with stakeholders around the Institute, the administration, and the original proposers. We expect to have a revised proposal to be voted on at the May faculty meeting. If the faculty decides to move forward at the May faculty meeting, we will work to stand up the new committee and ensure its successful integration in planning discussions.
Both the Faculty Policy Committee and the Committee on the Undergraduate Program have begun preliminary engagement with the Task Force on the Future of MIT Education. Given the spectrum of possibilities suggested in the interim report last fall, I expect that their final recommendations will be an important focus of discussion.
At the April faculty meeting, I presented a report on the MIT open access policy, instituted five years ago. The policy has been fairly successful at increasing open access to publications by MIT authors; however, it’s clear that the landscape of open access publishing has changed significantly over the last five years, and many aspects of our policy need to be revisited. For example, the policy covers only publication by MIT faculty, but not publication by other MIT researchers such as postdoctoral scholars and research scientists. Further, the original faculty resolution assigned responsibility for the open access policy with the Provost and the Faculty Committee on the Library System (FCLS). Because the policy implications reach well beyond the libraries, it’s not clear that the FCLS is the right body to be responsible for the policy. To consider these and other issues around open access, Provost Marty Schmidt and I intend to stand up an ad hoc task force in the fall to make recommendations on modifications to the open access policy.
I’d like to conclude by thanking the chairs of the 11 standing faculty committees: Professors Yet-Ming Chiang, Janet Conrad, Munther Dahleh, Stephen Graves, Nicolas Hadjiconstantinou, Leslie Kaelbling, Dennis Kim, Gareth McKinley, Shankar Raman, Gunther Roland, and Charles Stewart. Special thanks also goes to Professor Susan Silbey, who is stepping down as Secretary of the Faculty. I look forward to working with Professor JoAnne Yates, who will succeed Professor Silbey as Secretary of the Faculty next year.