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Faculty approve proposal to update MIT’s academic calendar, Commencement timing

Decision to move Commencement to late May marks culmination of community dialogue led by vice chancellor and registrar.
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Starting in 2020, MIT Commencement will move from June to late May in most years.
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Caption: Starting in 2020, MIT Commencement will move from June to late May in most years.
Credits: Photo: Dominick Reuter

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Starting in 2020, MIT Commencement will move from June to late May in most years.
Starting in 2020, MIT Commencement will move from June to late May in most years.
Photo: Dominick Reuter

Beginning in 2020, the timing of MIT’s Hooding and Commencement ceremonies will move from June to late May in most years. The 2020 ceremonies will be held on Thursday, May 28 and Friday, May 29. (Projected dates for doctoral hooding and Commencement ceremonies that will occur between 2021 and 2025 are available via the MIT Registrar.)

Faculty approved these updates to the academic calendar at the faculty meeting on April 17. The vote marked the culmination of months of community engagement and input-gathering conducted by the Office of the Vice Chancellor.

To accommodate the change, the Patriots’ Day student holiday will be reduced from four days to a three-day-weekend. The timing of the Independent Activities Period (IAP) will remain the same, and Registration Day will occur on the last day of IAP (Friday). The first day of spring classes will be on a Monday, and the last day of classes will be on a Tuesday. There will be four days of finals that straddle the weekend, but there will be an additional reading day. The resulting format will include two reading days, one exam day (Friday), two reading days, three exam days (Monday-Wednesday). The number of spring term teaching days remains at 65.

“The goal was to make adjustments to our academic calendar to enable a longer summer period and do so in a way that preserves what we heard was most important to the community,” said Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz, who, along with Registrar and Senior Associate Dean Mary Callahan, worked with hundreds of community members to devise a solution that best accommodates students, faculty, and staff. “With this change, we are helping the students who have to delay employment and internship opportunities, or extend their housing rental agreements, because of a June graduation date.”

Waitz, who is also the Jerome C. Hunsaker Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, noted that the new timing will assist faculty who currently need to put off early summer research and conference travel. In addition, the change will allow MIT to start maintenance and capital projects in residence halls and classrooms, and launch campus summer programs, sooner than is possible now.

Given the complex nature of the academic calendar, Waitz and Callahan acknowledged that the three proposals they considered, and the final version that was approved, come with positives and negatives. Even though the majority of people who provided feedback preferred the version that was approved, there are some aspects of the new format that can be further improved through proactive problem-solving and clear communication. For example, a group of staff is meeting now to develop different accommodation strategies for graduating students and their families, who may face conflicts with religious holidays or athletic schedules as a result of the new ceremony date.

“We will help the community understand and work through the implementation of this change recognizing that an academic calendar shift may create some challenges,” said Callahan.

Throughout the fall and spring, Callahan and Waitz engaged faculty by meeting with dean's group, academic council, undergraduate officers, heads of house, the OME Faculty Advisory Committee, the Committee on Graduate Programs, the Faculty Policy Committee, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, and Committee on Academic Performance. They worked with students from the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council as well as within the faculty governance structure, the Undergraduate and Graduate academic administrators, staff from the Office of Minority Education (OME), Global Education, and Student Support Services (S3), and consulted the faculty, students, and staff members of the Commencement Committee. In addition, the community had an opportunity to provide feedback via an online survey and a student forum hosted by the Office of the Vice Chancellor.

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