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August 18, 2021 - Preventing Student Complaints: MIT Rules About Managing Classes

Preventing Student Complaints: MIT Rules About Managing Classes

Lily L. Tsai

As we begin the 2021-2022 academic year, let me first express my appreciation for all that you are doing to fulfill our educational mission. It is never easy work at the best of times, and it has been extraordinary to see you adapt and innovate in the face of previously unimaginable challenges over the last three semesters.

If you are teaching this semester, please take a moment to read through the following reminders for Fall subjects, as we are returning to the regular Rules and Regulations of the Faculty. To avoid unnecessary headaches arising from student complaints about violations of these regulations after the semester begins, I ask for your help in checking that your subjects comply with these policies on grading, assignments, and exams.

  • Grading Guidelines
  • Assignment and Exam Restrictions
  • Scheduling Exams, Quizzes, and Review Sessions
  • Guidance Regarding Non-Enrolled Participants 

Also, the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana occurs on September 6-8 this year, during the first few days of classes. Please note that we **cannot** drop students from any type of subject (including a limited enrollment subject or a subject’s first recitation session) if they are not able to attend the first session due to the holiday.

In addition, we understand that many instructors will have questions regarding potential impacts of COVID during the semester. There will be a special 8am call for instructors on this topic on Friday, August 27. You will receive separate notification regarding this meeting.

Grading Guidelines

Please make sure that you are familiar with our policy of not grading “on a curve”, and that your understanding accords with these guidelines.

Grades at MIT are not awarded according to a predetermined distribution of letter grades. The grade for each student should be determined independent of the performance of other students in the class, and should be related to the student's mastery of the material based on the grade descriptions in Rules and Regulations of the Faculty. In the past there has been some confusion about the interpretation of this rule; please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Assignment and Exam Restrictions

Syllabi and Assignments.  For all undergraduate subjects, by the end of the first week, instructors must communicate in written form:

  • the number and kinds of required assignments,
  • a schedule of tests and major due dates,
  • whether or not there will be a final exam,
  • grading criteria and procedures to be used,
  • relative contribution of each assignment and course component (e.g., class participation, attendance) to the final grade,
  • in classes that require participation and/or attendance, the standards and means of assessment for those components, and
  • expectations regarding collaboration and academic conduct.

This must be provided in written form by posting on Canvas, Stellar, or the class website. In the case of classes that do not have the ability to post online, the information must be sent by email to all students, including those who register after the beginning of the semester.

The precise schedule of tests and due dates for major assignments must be provided in written form by the end of the third week for full-term subjects and by the end of the second week for half-term subjects.

For graduate subjects, instructors must communicate the above information by the end of the third week for full-term subjects and by the end of the second week for half-term subjects. As with undergraduate subjects, the information must be provided in written form as described above.

In all subjects, assignments are restricted during the last week of classes and may not be due after the end of the last scheduled class session. In the case of graduate subjects with no final exam and no assignment due during the last week of classes, one test may be held during the last week of classes, before the end of the last class session. Please refer to the Term Regulations section of the Faculty Governance website for specific details regarding regulations for full-term, H1 (first half), and H2 (second half) subjects.

Final Exams.  Scheduling for all H1 half-term subjects: the last week of the class is considered to be the Half-Term Final Examination Period. There may be at most one assignment due or one exam held during this last week of the class.

Scheduling for all full-term and H2 half-term subjects: the final examination period is from Monday, December 13 through Friday, December 17.

When planning final exams, please remember:

  • All final exams must be scheduled through the Schedules Office.
  • In subjects with a final exam, no tests or assignments may be due after Friday, December 3.
  • With the exception of undergraduate ex camera exams approved by the Chair of the Faculty, take-home final exams are not permitted.

Any other exceptions must be approved by the Chair of the Faculty. The Registrar's Office will coordinate conflict exams for cases where a student has two exams scheduled for the same time.

The Registrar's Office will post the fall final exam schedule by September 24. If you have any questions or need an exception, please contact me as soon as possible.

Student Holidays.  Monday, October 11 (Indigenous Peoples Day) and Thursday, November 11 (Veterans Day) are student holidays, as are Thursday, November 25 (Thanksgiving) and Friday, November 26.

Scheduling Exams, Quizzes, and Review Sessions.  When scheduling evening exams/quizzes or review sessions, it is important to remember that regularly scheduled evening classes always take precedence over review sessions or exams/quizzes. Consequently:

  • In the case of an evening exam/quiz, you must make available an alternative time for any students with such a conflict. Note that evening exams/quizzes may be scheduled only on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.
  • Review sessions should be optional, and should be described as such. It is good practice to announce them explicitly as being for those students who do not have classes on the evening in question; instructors should consider scheduling alternative review sessions to accommodate students who have conflicting evening classes.

Summary.  To ensure that all of your fall subjects comply with Faculty policies on scheduling, assignments, and exams, please refer to the Term Regulations section on the Faculty Governance website. There is general information there, as well as specific reminders for the beginning of the term (undergraduate and graduate) and the end of the term (generalas well as undergraduate and graduate). Finally, please take a few moments to review the full term regulations along with resources on grading and academic integrity. If you have any questions or need an exception, please contact me as soon as possible.

Non-Enrolled Participants

Engagement of non-enrolled participants in a subject can bring substantial benefits to the MIT-enrolled students. The decision to include non-MIT participants is at the discretion of a subject’s instructional staff under the oversight of the subject’s department or program. When non-enrolled participants are engaged in or granted access to an MIT subject, this should be disclosed and made transparent to the MIT-enrolled students. In general, the expectation is that the presence or engagement of non-enrolled participants should be designed so as not to interfere with, degrade, or dilute the MIT-enrolled student experience. Further details on the guidelines are available, and instructors are encouraged to consult them when relevant.

It is especially important to be aware that active participation – e.g. viewing or participating in synchronous or asynchronous discussions, viewing of MIT-enrolled student contributions, engaging or partnering with MIT-enrolled students in some component of the subject – by certain groups requires special attention: (1) For active participation by K-12 students, please contact minors@mit.edu. (2) For active participation by non-enrolled remote participants, please contact exportcontrolhelp@mit.edu.

Warm wishes for the fall term,

Lily L. Tsai
Ford Professor of Political Science
Director, MIT Governance Lab (MIT GOV/LAB)
Chair of the MIT Faculty