Academic Year 2023-2024

9 Guidelines for Preparing Subject Proposals

  • 9.1 General Guidelines

    The following guidelines are intended to assist faculty and other members of the MIT community in preparing proposals for undergraduate subjects. They should be viewed as a codification of expectations, not as rules.

    1. An MIT department administrator or department head must electronically submit to the CoC an Undergraduate Subject Proposal Form. Detailed instructions are given in the Subject Proposal Management Quick Card.

    2. All proposals for new and revised subjects must have the explicit approval of an academic department head or appropriate administrator, and must include a statement articulating the need to offer this new subject or change an existing one. The space provided on the proposal form is sufficient in most cases. A lengthy rationale is discouraged. A syllabus may be requested by the Committee if additional information is needed.

      In the case of subjects to be offered jointly by two or more departments, all relevant departments must explicitly approve the subject offering.

    3. Proposals to eliminate undergraduate subjects should be submitted at the same time as proposals for new and revised subjects. The removal of a subject should include a statement from the department giving the reasons for its elimination, as well as an assessment of impact, if any, on the curricula of other departments, General Institute Requirements, etc.

    4. Units and grades: Undergraduate subjects carry 6 to 24 units (normally multiples of three units) and are normally letter-graded; undergraduate subjects can be graded P/D/F only by explicit permission of the CoC. First-year advising seminars normally carry three units and are graded P/D/F.

      It is the policy of the CoC to maintain the distinction between undergraduate and graduate subjects; therefore, the Committee requires separate subject numbers for any subject offering both "U" and either "G" credit.

    5. It is expected that any for-credit subject will be taught by an MIT faculty member or instructor appointed through normal departmental channels and procedures and that the faculty member has received the approval of their department head to teach the subject.

      The CoC recognizes that a number of non-faculty members of the MIT community, such as visiting faculty, post-doctoral or other research staff, members of the administrative staff, and sometimes undergraduate and graduate students, are involved in teaching undergraduate subjects, seminars, and recitation sections. The CoC expects their participation to have the full knowledge and approval of the department head. In such cases, the department head should appoint a regular member of the faculty to oversee the teaching of the subject.

    6. Proposals for special subjects are not reviewed by the CoC, nor are proposals to include special subjects in degree programs or minors. Guidelines governing the use of special subjects are posted on the Registrar’s website.

  • 9.2 For Subjects with Substantial Digital Content

    In-person instruction has many pedagogical and interpersonal benefits, for both the individual student and the Institute as a vibrant academic community. As such, the CoC’s philosophy is that MIT subjects should generally take place in person, and departments or instructors wishing to limit this time should present strong justifications for doing so.

    For the purpose of the CoC Guidelines, Recorded Digital Content refers to any recorded or automatically synthesized instructional media that does not involve real-time interaction between the student and a human instructor. Virtual instruction refers to any instruction that does not involve in-person interactions between the student and a human instructor.

    For proposals involving substantial use of pre-recorded digital content or virtual instruction, the CoC requires detailed information about the format, time designated for virtual instruction or use of recorded digital content, and type of instructional materials used. Consultations with offices such as Open Learning and the Teaching + Learning Lab are encouraged and should also be described within the proposal.


    • It is expected that at least three units of a 12-unit subject fall under the lecture/recitation and/or laboratory/design/fieldwork sections of the unit distribution.
    • “Lecture/recitation” hours involve synchronous, in-person interaction with faculty — including professors, lecturers, post-docs, or department-approved qualified student instructors. The use of Recorded Digital Content should not replace synchronous time spent with MIT faculty. Time spent with teaching assistants should not replace MIT faculty interaction.
    • “Lab/design/fieldwork” hours involve synchronous, in-person interaction with faculty or teaching assistants. The use of Recorded Digital Content should not replace synchronous time spent with MIT faculty or teaching assistants.
    • Time spent using pre-recorded instructional materials asynchronously (i.e., without real-time instructor or teaching assistant interaction, such as pre-recorded lectures) should be included in the “preparation” section of the unit distribution. This is common in “flipped classroom” situations. Instructors may choose to include some version of this stock language in their description: “Lectures are viewed outside of class; in-class time is dedicated to problem-solving and discussion.”
    • Regarding time spent engaged in synchronous remote interactions with instructors, the committee has drawn a distinction between subjects offered during the fall/spring semester, vs. subjects offered during IAP or summer.
    • For subjects offered during the fall and spring semester, synchronous remote sessions may be incorporated as a pedagogically useful way to add additional instructor interaction, but should not replace in-person lecture/discussion time.
    • For subjects offered during IAP or summer, when many students are not in residence, the committee recognizes that synchronous remote sessions may provide a mechanism for making subjects available to students who could not otherwise attend them, in addition to potential pedagogical benefits. Accordingly, CoC will consider proposals for fully remote subjects during these terms. The proposal should address how remote sessions will be designed to promote interaction between students and instructors, as well as among students. The subject description should include some version of this stock language: “Offered virtually during IAP only.”
    • The CoC’s approach to reviewing substantial changes to curriculum related to virtual instruction and recorded digital content is to encourage innovation while practicing caution. As such, the Committee may recommend that the department first start by offering the new subject under a special topics number.

      Any exceptions to the above should be well-articulated in subject proposals submitted to the CoC.