Preregistration Plan Slated For Next Fall

At year’s first CUE meeting, students and faculty criticize plan

Despite misgivings from some members of the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE), Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby confirmed at yesterday’s CUE meeting that he intends to go ahead with a plan for early course registration beginning next year.

Though “nothing has been set,” according to Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz, he said he is “involved...in planning for early registration as if it is going to happen next year.”

Kirby’s proposed system of preregistration would retain shopping period yet require students to fill out their study cards the semester before. The initiative was criticized by some CUE members who were not convinced that it would solve the problems of poor advising and unpredictable course numbers it is intended to address.

“I would be interested in seeing evidence that pre-enrollment could predict enrollment,” said CUE member Michael Mitzenmacher, an associate professor of computer science.

According to faculty members on CUE, departments do not currently have any standardized way to predict class size, but Mitzenmacher and CUE member Rohit Chopra ’04 said they thought a math or computer-based algorithm might be able perform this function—with or without early registration.

Wolcowitz said, though, that many other colleges had successful preregistration programs in which “the [preregistration] numbers turn out to be quite good” at predicting actual class size.

Wolcowitz said preregistration would also make for earlier and better advising, as well as better course planning in terms of teaching fellow hiring, determining classroom size and ordering enough course materials.

Another concern raised at yesterday’s meeting involved the timing of an early registration system. Faculty would need to plan leaves of absence, new courses and course syllabi much earlier in the year than they currently do.

Despite this and other concerns, Wolcowitz, Kirby and new Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict R. Gross ’71 said their goal is to have preregistration up and running by fall 2003, in time for students to register for spring 2004.

Kirby said he hoped to address any concerns about the change over the course of the year.

“My hope is to get feedback from the CUE and from students and faculty more generally, and then to take the issue to the Faculty Council, which would need to recommend any change in the Handbook [for Students] for the dates for registration, preliminary or otherwise,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Wolcowitz said he met with department chairs and decided shooting for fall 2003 would give the faculty appropriate “lead time” to discuss and enact plans for early registration.

Gross, presiding over his first CUE meeting as dean, said preregistration would likely undergo a trial period of at least three years.

Early registration dominated the meeting’s agenda, though the committee also conducted its annual review of the CUE Guide.

The meeting also addressed the upcoming curricular review, with a general emphasis on re-examining the Core Curriculum. At the start of the meeting, Kirby stressed the importance of this review, calling early registration a “much smaller” issue.

Though Chopra, who is chair of the Undergraduate Council’s Student Affairs Committee, said he hoped discussion of preregistration would continue, he said he expected that curriculum review would be CUE’s main focus this year.

“It’s very exciting, in that literally everything is up for grabs,” Chopra said.

Staff writer Divya A. Mani can be reached at mani@fas.harvard.edu.