From The Faculty Chair
Issues for the Fall Term
A new academic year has begun, and it’s always exciting to start a new year and meet new students. In this column, I’d like to talk about a number of issues that faculty might want to consider as the term gets underway.
Each year, the Faculty Chair works with the Associate Provost to host orientation for new faculty in August. Over the course of 2014-15, approximately 40 new colleagues will join the Institute. I invite you to join me in extending a warm welcome, and look forward to seeing new faces at the monthly Institute Faculty Meetings (September 17, October 15, November 19, December 17, February 18, March 18, April 15, May 20).
Joining the faculty officers this year is Prof. JoAnne Yates, who became the new Secretary of the Faculty. Former Secretary Prof. Susan Silbey stepped down on July 1 to begin a sabbatical leave. Susan did a splendid job as Secretary, and I enjoyed getting to know her. Her counsel was invaluable to me and the administration. I look forward to working with JoAnne in the coming year.
I would be remiss not to reflect briefly on our losses over the summer. Many of us knew Professors Seth Teller and JoAnn Carmin, and their absence in our classrooms, departments, committee meetings, and labs will be keenly felt.
I had the pleasure of knowing Seth Teller. President Reif described Seth as “a person of great human warmth and intellectual intensity,” which I think is a good description.
Seth was an activist in community issues in Cambridge, where he lived. Seth was one of the proposers of the new faculty committee on campus planning, and I called on Seth in May to help work out some final details on the proposal to establish the committee. Both Seth and JoAnn will be missed greatly. As is tradition, their personal and professional contributions to the Institute will be recognized with memorial resolutions this fall.
Moving from the profound to the everyday, I also want to use this space to ask that everyone teaching this semester please check to ensure that your syllabi, assignments, exams, and other subject planning follow the academic term regulations. In this issue, you will find an overview of some of the key policies that the faculty has adopted over the years.
One of the responsibilities of being Faculty Chair is to respond to student reports on violations of term regulations in the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty at the start and end of the term.
Although students are asked to raise concerns directly with their professors at the start of the term, not all violations are caught early, and sometimes violations are created when an instructor has to make a last-minute change. Some of the more common complaints deal with take-home exams after the last exam day or during finals week, which are prohibited as a general rule; academic activities outside allowable times (e.g., 5-7 pm); and assignments due after the end of the semester. Unfortunately, there are very limited solutions when these issues come to light at the end of the term. Although most violations by faculty are unintentional and well-meaning, they cause significant stress among students at an already stressful time of year.
At the same time, it’s clear that as our curriculum continues to evolve, we will also need to revisit how we help students manage the pace and pressure of life at MIT. Over the summer, the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education issued a final report for comment. If you have not yet done so, I encourage you to skim through their 16 recommendations, available online.
Responsibility now rests with the community to discuss the ideas that have been raised. In my last column, I mentioned some related issues that faculty committees are beginning to consider this year, such as how to implement and practically manage more modular subject offerings, and how to award credit for online study. In some sense, exploring and accommodating modularity is simply responding to a trend that is already underway. However, the report also puts forward bold ideas around formalizing undergraduate service opportunities, and even reconsidering the GIRs. While the former has received support in the past, the latter has proven to be a notoriously contentious issue. As a faculty, we will need to think carefully about how to evolve the curriculum.
There are several ways to share feedback on the report. Aside from emailing the co-chairs, there will be a faculty forum on September 24 to share comments directly. Details are available on the Task Force Website.
Random Faculty Dinners
For the last 26 years, Jay Keyser has hosted informal dinners for the Institute faculty. These dinners are called the Random Faculty Dinners, because the guest list is random – invitations are sent to a randomly generated list of faculty each month. Typically, about 25 faculty will attend each dinner. The dinners offer a chance to converse with colleagues you are not likely to have met or spoken with recently or, in many cases, ever. There are no planned agendas, although time is allotted for anyone to raise a current issue. This year, Provost Marty Schmidt and I will continue Jay’s tradition by taking on the role of hosts for the Random Faculty Dinners. We hope that you will have a chance to join us this year.
At Your Service
As a reminder, the Committee on Nominations will circulate the annual Institute Committee Preference Questionnaire in the coming weeks. This is the primary mechanism for opting into or out of service on the standing faculty and Institute committees for next year (2015-16). Whether you would like to add Institute service to your CV, or have a personal interest in one of the committee areas (such as the new Campus Planning Committee), please help the Nominations Committee by providing your availability. For those who are overcommitted or have conflicting plans, there is an easy option to decline service.
Finally, if there are any issues that you would like the faculty committees to address this year, the faculty officers may be reached collectively at firstname.lastname@example.org.