Research shows the success of a bacterial community depends on its shape.
The Institute Calendar Committee has submitted to President Vest and to the MIT community a proposal for a permanent calendar that would replace the interim calendar under which MIT has been operating for several years. In devising a permanent calendar, the Committee attempted to address some widely-acknowledged problems with the calendar: a shortage of official class days compared with most peer institutions, inconsistent length and structure of terms, and inadequate reading and examination periods, all of which exacerbate the pace and pressure here.
While the proposal was intended to increase flexibility in teaching schedules, response to it has focused on the way it reduces flexibility in other areas. In their responses, both faculty and students have stressed the need to consider competing demands on their time -- notably research time for faculty and employment time for students, both of which would be seriously affected by scaling back the present summer leave.
These trade-offs have been discussed at the April Faculty Meeting, at an Undergraduate Association forum, and in the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) and the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP). After consultation with members of the Calendar Committee, a subgroup of FPC and CUP have developed an alternative in the form of an amendment to the Calendar Committee proposal that was presented tot he Faculty on April 21, 1993. This amendment has been formally approved by FPC and CUP. It also has the support of the Institute Calendar Committee and the IAP Policy Committee (IAPPC) and will be offered as a substitute motion to be voted on at the May 19 Faculty Meeting.
Salient Features of the Amendment
The proposal includes both a new, 65 class-day calendar and certain changes that strengthen the academic integrity of IAP. The 65 class-day structure represents a compromise between the shorter interim calendar and the longer original Calendar Committee proposal. The changes in IAP are integral to the amendment.
In the amendment, registration day in the fall would come on the first Tuesday after Labor Day, with the first day of classes the following day (Wednesday). There would normally be 6 holidays, a 4-day reading period, and a 5-day exam period.
In order to ensure that classes do not begin before Labor Day, the fall semester would be shortened to 63 class days in two years out of seven. In those years two holidays would be dropped, and the fall reading period would be three days, as currently.
The spring term would have 65 class days with 8 holi days, a 3-day reading period, and an exam period of 5 days. Commencement would be held on a Friday between June 3 and 9.
The summer session is left unchanged.
Independent Activities Period
In this amendment, IAP has 19 class days (2 more than during the interim calendar, and the same number as in the original proposal). The academic content of IAP would be upgraded in a significant way. Departments will be encouraged to move into IAP more of their credit-bearing activities that are especially appropriate for IAP's distinctive pace and timing (for example, intense design activities; project laboratories; field schools; language instruction; and varieties of 3- and 6-unit topical subjects).
Departments will specifically be allowed to move no more than 12 units of their required departmental program into IAP, with the expectation that some majors may be required to participate in an intense, pedagogically ap propriate, departmental activity during one of their four IAP periods at MIT. It is anticipated that these subjects might not be offered during regular term times. The FPC and CUP, in conjunction with IAPPC and the Committee on Curricula, will develop guidelines and procedures to ensure that departmental offerings during IAP are educationally appropriate. Specific approval will be necessary for those required subjects that will not be offered during the regular terms.
Advantages of the Amendment
Departments that wish to increase time devoted to classroom teaching would be able to do so by using IAP more intensively. Departments or Schools that have no need of this additional time would be free to use IAP in its existing mode, or to respond to the changed schedule in other ways.
Pace and Pressure
By allowing more credit subjects into IAP without in creasing the total size of department programs, the amendment would de crease the pressure on the longer terms. It therefore moves in the same direction as initiatives such as 8.01L, which attempt to use IAP as a safety valve for pressures accumulated during term time.
Constraints on the Summer
Given the finite number of days in the year, the goal of increasing the number of class days cannot be met without subtract ing those days from other parts of the calendar. If the amendment is adopted, some faculty and students will be more fully occupied with aca demic activities during some IAPs; in contrast, the original proposal would require all faculty and students to be on campus and in classes for an additional two weeks each year.
Although 65 class-day terms would extend modestly into the present summer break, none of those extensions would spill over into weeks now con-sidered part of that break. In the fall, classes would start a few days sooner after Labor Day, but would not begin before Labor Day. In the spring, exams would end on a Friday rather than on a Wednesday, so that students could begin summer activities in the week following exams as most presently do.
Number of Teaching Days
We suggest the following algorithm for estimating how the amendment effectively increases the number of teaching days. Twelve units of course work during an IAP amounts to 1/4 of a semester, or approximately 16 days, which, when divided by 4 (reflecting one such in tensive IAP per 4 years), amounts to an increase of 4 days of teaching time per year. This calculation does not include other credit-bearing activities that might be engaged in by students during IAP. When combined with the increase of 3 days of regular term time (128-130 days per year), the result is an effective increase of 7 days per year--an amount comparable to the recommendation of the Calendar Committee.
More Adequate Reading and Exam Periods
Under the amendment, the fall term would have four days in the reading period rather than three - a desirable arrangement since there are more exams given in the fall term. Furthermore, the structure of fall and spring reading and exam periods would be very similar. Spring exams would now end on a Friday, rather than on a Wednesday or Thursday as under both the interim calendar and the original proposal. Since grades generally would be due the following Wednesday, faculty members would have several more days to grade exams in the spring term than they do at present.
General Consistency of Terms
Most terms (12 of 14, taken over 7 years) will have 65 class days. In both the fall and spring terms, classes on the M/W/F schedule would begin on a Wednesday.
The following disadvantages should also be noted:
Some Inconsistency of Terms
Two fall terms out of seven will have only 63 class days and a shorter reading period and two fewer vacation days. The alternative would be to begin classes before Labor Day in those years. Our perception is that the faculty and students would rather live with the relatively minor irregularity.
The Monday Schedule of Classes Held on Tuesdays
This arrangement, done early in the term, is occasionally necessary to keep in balance the number of T/R and M/W/F classes. This arrangement is found in both the present in terim calendar and in the original proposal, as well as in the amendment. Again, this seems a relatively small cost to achieve the other rationalization.
The details of the calendar proposed as an amendment to the original April 21 Calendar motion are outlined in Table I. A comparison among the calendars is given in Table II, and the language of the substitute motion is given in Table III.
A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 32).