Faculty vote to move commencement one week earlier

New date will come into effect starting with the Class of 2020

Faculty voted in a faculty meeting April 17 to approve changes that will result in commencement ceremonies being held one week earlier. The changes will impact spring registration day, Patriots’ Day weekend, and finals week, and they will take effect May 2020.

As The Tech has previously reported, the proposal for the change was headed by the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC). Commencement was moved because having Commencement in the first week of June forced some graduating students to delay their employment or internships and those living in apartments to pay an extra month’s rent, Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz said in an interview with The Tech. Waitz added that the earlier Commencement date will avoid conflicts with research conferences, provide more time for dorm maintenance, and allow summer programs such as Interphase that use campus housing to extend.

Changes to the academic calendar

The approved changes to academic calendar section of the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty keep the number of spring term teaching days the same. Spring finals week will end two days earlier. Additionally, one grading day and four administrative days between finals week and Commencement will be removed so that Commencement can be seven days earlier.

Spring registration day will now take place on the last day of IAP. The length of IAP remains unaffected. Spring term classes will begin on the Monday instead of the Tuesday following IAP, and Patriots’ Day weekend will be shortened from four days to three days. This allows classes to end two days earlier, on Tuesday rather than Thursday. Finals will begin the Friday of the last week of classes, and continue Monday through Wednesday of the next week.

Students in the Class of 2020 and beyond will receive their diplomas a week earlier, and non-graduating students will have an extra two days of summer break.

Adjusting to the new schedule

Students will have four days instead of five days for final exams. This increases the chances that students will have multiple exams on the same day. Waitz said instructors would need to stick more rigorously to the results of the schedule optimization algorithm to avoid conflicts and back-to-back exams. According to Waitz, students and faculty have a history of requesting that their finals be moved to earlier dates after the optimization algorithm is run, which creates more exam conflicts. In the future, fewer of these requests will be accommodated.

Faculty will now have one and a half weekdays to finish grading finals instead of three. This change is preferred by faculty over the current system, since the one and a half grading days fall on weekdays, instead of on Memorial Day weekend, as prior, Waitz said. In addition, most of the problems with grades coming in late have not been with classes with finals, according to Waitz.

Instead of having six administrative days between the final grade deadline and the Hooding ceremony, there will now only be two. After Memorial Day, the individual departments will have one day to review and submit grades, and flag students with missing requirements. The next day, the Committee on Academic Performance and Committee on Graduate Programs will create the degree list. Hooding and Commencement will follow immediately on the Thursday and Friday of that week.

The cut in the number of administrative days means a tighter timeframe for finalizing degrees, but Waitz believes that improved Institute-department communication will facilitate the process. “We’re going to have to tell everyone that if we’re going to gain this extra week of summer, you really do have to get your stuff in on these deadlines,” Waitz said.

The number of days between final exams and Commencement has decreased from fifteen to eight. Senior Week, which typically spans six days and runs into early June, will be pushed earlier for the Class of 2020 and beyond. According to an email from Stella Yang ’20 on behalf of the Class of 2020 Class Council, Senior Week will still occur in the days between final exams and Commencement.

Addressing concerns

According to a survey administered by the OVC in January, slightly more undergraduates were in favor of the changes than against them. For the graduate students, staff, faculty, and postdocs who responded, the preference for the changes was stronger. The survey received over 700 responses, including 240 from undergraduates.

Students’ concerns with the changes in the academic calendar include a shorter Patriots’ Day weekend that will give students less of a break after CPW. However, Waitz said that the weekend following soon after spring break mitigates this, and the OVC will remind faculty to be mindful that many students play an important role in CPW.

The change in the finals schedule was met with mixed reactions. While some students preferred the old five day finals schedule, others saw benefit in a four day finals period broken up by a weekend, Waitz said.

Waitz proposed solutions to conflicts with athletic competitions and religious holidays, as well. “We will have a special event for athletes who are headed to national competitions, for them and their families in regalia with the president, prior to the time they have to go off to competitions.”

Shavuot, a Jewish holiday, will coincide with Commencement roughly every 10 years. “There too, we’ve learned from our peers that they’re able to put in place accommodations for families and those students to enable them to observe the holiday and at the same time participate in Commencement. So we’re working with Rabbi Fisher on how to do that, and how to do that well,” Waitz said.

According to an FAQ on the Office of the Vice Chancellor’s website, the Institute Events office has determined that there has historically been enough hotel capacity in the last week of May to accommodate MIT’s Commencement. Hotel rates for the last week of May are historically lower than for the first week of June, although it is unknown how the change in Commencement dates will impact pricing.

Waitz saw changing the academic calendar to move Commencement earlier as an optimization problem that required multiple iterations of tweaking the schedule. “We were faced with conflicts and I think we found really nice MIT ways to solve them, where we just put in a little ingenuity and creativity and try and create a solution that maybe doesn’t solve all the problems but is really welcoming and celebratory and inclusive.”