MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXIV No. 3
January / February 2012
A Contrarian View of MITx:
What Are We Doing!?
Freshman Advising and MITx
MITx: MIT's Vision for Online Learning
First Generation Project Launched
A Message from the First Generation Project Student Executive Board
We Gotta Have HOPE
FPC Subcommittee to Review IAP
Glass at MIT: Beauty and Utility
Memorial Service for Bob Silbey
Teaching this spring? You should know . . .
Under-Represented Minority Faculty and Students: 1987–2012
A Women as Percentage of Total Undergraduates, Graduate Students,
and Faculty: 1901–2012
Printable Version

FPC Subcommittee to Review IAP

Aaron Weinberger

Since its introduction in 1971, Independent Activities Period (IAP) has seen significant growth in both the number of academic subjects offered and the number of students who enroll. IAP was established as a break from the rigorous academic routine of the fall and spring semesters. It was intended to offer opportunities for “creativity and flexibility in teaching and learning during which students are encouraged to set their own educational agendas, pursue independent projects, meet with faculty, or pursue many other options not possible during the semester. Faculty are free to introduce innovative education experiments as IAP activities.”

Does this description still accurately reflect the nature of IAP? Has the evolution of IAP over the past 40 years been so great that IAP no longer meets the Institute’s original intent? And, if so, is that a bad thing?

During the fall semester, to gain a deeper understanding of the evolution of IAP, the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) met with Registrar Mary Callahan and Senior Associate Dean and Director of the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming (UAAP) Julie Norman, whose office oversees IAP. In that meeting, the FPC reviewed data that illustrate the significance of the changes to IAP, in particular over the last 20 years. Since 1991, graduate student enrollment in IAP has increased by 273% and undergraduate enrollment by 131%. The number of graduate subjects offered has increased by 125% and undergraduate subjects by 59%. Almost 45% of all MIT students now take subjects for academic credit during IAP.

Relatedly, IAP has come to resemble the fall and spring terms in a number of ways. For instance, some departments now offer required for-credit subjects during IAP as part of a particular major. Also, during IAP the academic calendar defines the first day of instruction, students may preregister for subjects, subjects are evaluated, and grades must be reported to the Registrar at the end of the period.

However, IAP continues to function like an ad hoc period: There is neither a registration process, nor an add/drop period, nor a formal advising role. Moreover, faculty rules governing the conduct of graduate and undergraduate subjects during the term do not apply.

Until its dissolution in 2000, the IAP Policy Committee – a presidential committee that consisted largely of faculty – examined policy matters and evaluated IAP within the context of the total academic program. The Committee on Curricula (CoC) and the Committee on Graduate Programs (CGP) now have responsibility for monitoring for-credit proposals for compliance. But there has been no comprehensive review of IAP since 2000. In light of the changes noted above, the FPC has charged an ad hoc subcommittee to examine IAP, with particular regard to the following questions:

  • Is the high level of academic activity during IAP at odds with the flexibility and creativity that IAP was designed to encourage?
  • Should required subjects be permitted during IAP? If so, should they be restricted to pass/fail grading?
  • Should faculty rules governing the conduct of graduate and undergraduate subjects during the fall and spring semesters apply during IAP?
  • Should there be a consistent rule across Schools and departments regarding the annual course load expectations for faculty who teach during IAP?
  • Should IAP be shortened, thus allowing the spring term to begin and end earlier along with extending the reading period?
  • Should a formal registration process and add/drop period be established for IAP?
  • Should a formal advising element be added for the students enrolled in for-credit IAP activities?

The subcommittee will begin meeting early in the spring semester to discuss these issues. It will present a preliminary report to the FPC at the end of the term and a final report of its findings and recommendations early in the fall 2012 term. Professor Lisa Steiner of the Department of Biology has graciously agreed to chair the subcommittee, which will include faculty representatives from the FPC, CoC, CGP, and the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, undergraduate and graduate representatives, and designees from the Office of the Registrar and the UAAP. Professor Sam Allen, Chair of the Faculty and Chair of the FPC, will provide an update to the faculty at a fall 2012 Institute faculty meeting.

Back to top
Send your comments