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Proposal aims to update MIT’s academic calendar and Commencement timing

Vice chancellor, registrar seek community input on reducing the time between final exams and Commencement.
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MIT graduates make their way to Killian Court via Massachusetts Avenue during the 2017 Commencement ceremonies.
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MIT graduates make their way to Killian Court via Massachusetts Avenue during the 2017 Commencement ceremonies.
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Photo: Jake Belcher

MIT’s current academic calendar took shape in 1994 when Independent Activities Period (IAP) was expanded by half a week. The most notable effect: There are two weeks between the end of finals and the hooding and Commencement ceremonies.

As a result, graduation events take place within the first week of June, which has long been a concern of many members of the MIT community. 

“MIT’s Commencement is late relative to peer institutions, but that’s not what is motivating efforts to improve the academic calendar,” says Ian A. Waitz, vice chancellor for undergraduate and graduate education. Instead, he explains, the resulting shorter summer period has significant impact on the community and on routine campus operations.

The timing of Commencement requires some students to delay employment and internship opportunities or extend their housing rental agreements for the entire month of June. There are implications for faculty as well, as some need to avoid early summer research and conference travel.

Other challenges associated with a later commencement include delays to maintenance and capital projects in residence halls and classrooms that benefit the MIT community as well as launching summer programs hosted in residences.

Waitz, whose office has been actively engaging groups of students, faculty, deans, and staff on the issue for several months, adds that changing the timing of the academic calendar is not a new effort.

He cites a 2015-2016 survey and assessment by the Commencement Committee that explored the possibility of moving the ceremonies to Memorial Day weekend in some years.

“Maximizing community input is vital,” he says. “We want to do our best to understand the implications of any change.” His office will host an upcoming student forum on Feb. 12, and all members of the MIT community can provide input via an online feedback form.

Feedback is due by Feb. 15 so that it can be incorporated into a final proposal that will be presented to the faculty at their March meeting. The faculty will then vote on the proposal in April. If approved, the changes would go into effect for the 2019-20 academic year.

Senior Associate Dean and Registrar Mary Callahan had the challenging task of developing viable models that move Commencement to the end of May (in most years), while balancing final exam and reading days scheduling, spring grade submissions, semester start dates, and student holidays.

“Getting all those elements to line up was like solving a Rubik’s cube, blindfolded,” Callahan says, giving credit to her staff’s tenacity and creativity in helping with the process. “We are focused on developing options that make a few small adjustments rather than one big one, balancing out the pluses and minuses, and ultimately making life better for as many at MIT as possible.”

The three options developed with community input and being considered now are as follows:

Option 1: Remove one day from IAP; Reg Day on last day of IAP classes (Thursday); the last day is removed from IAP classes.
First day of spring classes is on Friday after IAP. There is no impact on the Patriots’ Day student holiday. There are four days of finals, but straddling the weekend (two reading, one exam, two reading, three exam days). One grading day is eliminated. There is a shorter administrative time after finals.

Option 2: IAP stays the same; Reg Day on last day of IAP (Friday). 
First day of spring classes is on a Monday. The Tuesday Patriots’ Day student holiday is eliminated. There are four days of finals, but straddling the weekend (two reading, one exam, two reading, three exam). One grading day is eliminated. There is a shorter administrative time after finals.

Option 3: IAP stays the same; Reg Day on last day of IAP (Friday); Saturday exams.
First day of spring classes is on a Monday. There is no impact on the Patriots’ Day student holiday. There are four days of finals, straddling the weekend, with exams on Saturday: two reading, one exam (Sat), one reading (Sun), three exam. One grading day is eliminated. There is a shorter administrative time after finals.

“There are some potential downsides for each of these,” adds Waitz, “such as one of the options removes one teaching day in IAP. We will consider the advantages and disadvantages and put forward a balanced proposal for the faculty to consider in the spring term. Our hope is that we come away with a change that provides the MIT community with the benefits of a longer summer while mitigating the challenges associated with our current calendar.”

website was created for those wishing to learn more about these proposals, the objectives of this effort, the community engagement plan, and how to participate in the conversation.

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