MIT considering delayed start to spring semester

Week-long spring break removed in all alternative calendar options

The spring semester may be delayed by about two weeks and spring break may be canceled, according to a presentation of academic calendar options emailed to The Tech by Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz. The delayed start date would be Feb. 16 or 17 instead of Feb. 1. IAP will remain remote and run Jan. 4–29.

Waitz wrote that changes to the start date will be based on options that best balance “public health risk,” where there is more concern during the cold months, “against disrupting summer plans” if “we go later than normal.”

Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation Head G. Anthony Grant wrote in an email to varsity athletes Oct. 14 that “while the specific dates have not been formally adopted by the Institute at this time, we can anticipate a significant change to our normal spring schedule” that will “reflect a later start to the semester.”

The presentation describes five alternatives to the current published calendar, each containing the two-week shift. In all alternatives, a week-long spring break is either removed or replaced with shorter breaks dispersed throughout the term over concerns about COVID-19 transmission. “We anticipate that MIT would not be allowing travel mid-semester,” as “it would require another quarantine period on return,” Waitz wrote.

Additional changes include implementing remote instruction during the first two weeks of the semester to reduce building density during the colder periods. The calendar options contain other variations such as hosting a registration week instead of a registration day, reducing the number of teaching days, and shortening the final exam period.

During registration week, advisors would be able to meet with advisees any time during the second week of February. The option would allow for one additional day to the semester, Waitz wrote. The minimum number of teaching days considered is 63, slightly less than the 65 days in the current calendar. 

Administrators also considered shortening the final exam period from four days to three because they saw one-third fewer finals than usual during Spring 2020 after APART recommended faculty to shift away from “higher stakes assessment mechanisms,” Waitz wrote. However, the shift was “not as significant” in the fall. “The uncertainty around this is one of the reasons our latest permutations preserve four final exam days.” 

The presentation estimates that shortening the final exam period would create “85 additional direct exam conflicts and 288 additional back-to-back exams.”

Waitz wrote that no specific announcement day for the spring calendar has been decided. However, MIT is hoping to make a decision “as quickly as possible” on both the start date and which students will be allowed on campus “while providing opportunities for community input.” Groups such as the Graduate Student Council and Undergraduate Association have recently met with Waitz to discuss the options.

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 said in an interview with The Tech that MIT still plans to invite all first years, sophomores, and juniors to campus in the spring, as announced in July. “Our approach…has been to take that plan and to say, ‘How do we make that plan happen in a way that is safe?’,” Barnhart said.