Sam Allen looks forward to 2 years as faculty chair

Plans for IAP, undergrad advising review

On July 1, Samuel M. Allen PhD ’75 succeeded Tom A. Kochan as the chair of the faculty.

Allen, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has been chair-elect since May 2010. He will serve as the chair for two years.

In his new role, Allen heads the Faculty Policy Committee, which oversees and coordinates between the 11 faculty standing committees. The standing committees are responsible for formulating policies on various aspects of student and faculty life.

Allen says that as Chair of Faculty, he is in a unique position at the interface between MIT’s senior leadership, faculty, and students. His biggest goal as chair is to use the position to “make sure that communication channels from one level to another are fairly open.”

Allen — who meets regularly with members of the Undergraduate Association — said that he wants to ensure that students, faculty, and the administration can communicate effectively on issues that affect the Institute as a whole.

For instance, the Faculty Policy Committee is currently working on a review of the Independent Activities Period. When IAP was initially established, said Allen, it was intended to be an informal exploratory period and no for-credit activities were offered. Since then, for-credit IAP classes, and a policy that allows departments to require that their students take classes offered only during IAP, were approved.

“The question is, has IAP started in one place and evolved into a new place that makes sense, or is [it] going off track?” Allen said.

He added that any coming IAP changes will likely concern “content and style,” rather than the schedule.

Allen also plans to focus on student advising and mentoring programs, particularly the freshman advising program. Allen currently teaches the freshman blacksmithing seminar and said that he hopes to “get more faculty engaged with freshman advising.”

As chair of faculty, Allen is also responsible for administrative tasks such as fielding complaints from students who feel that their professors are violating term regulations.

Beyond students, Allen said that he is asking his faculty colleagues to inform him about their views so that he can try to incorporate their “broad spectrum” of perspectives into policy discussions. He said that he wanted to make sure that he was focusing on issues that were of importance to many people, rather than “things that concern me a lot but may not be of much interest to anyone else.”