Students Fight for Shopping Period

Over 1,000 sign petition plan

More than 1,250 students have signed a petition stating that they do not support the idea of implementing a system of preregistration for classes.

The proposed system—put forth by Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby last summer and subsequently discussed by both the Committee on Undergraduate Education and the Faculty Council this fall—would fundamentally change shopping period and require students to register for classes at least two months before they begin.

Signature collectors said they circulated copies of the petition in campus dining halls, libraries and classrooms over the past five days and presented them to top members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences yesterday morning.

They also delivered letters protesting the possibility of the new system to all Faculty members.

The issue is slated for discussion at the full Faculty meeting today, though the earliest it could come to a vote would be the March meeting.

Nicholas F. Josefowitz ’05 and Lauren A.E. Schuker ’06, who are also Crimson editors, organized the petition.

“Over the past two weeks, we saw how much students value shopping period,” Josefowitz said. “We felt that it was important that the Faculty take the students’ opinion into account.”

Students said they signed the petition for a number of reasons.

“I really feel like the whole point of shopping period is to go around and explore different classes,” said Alicia C. Llosa ’03. “It’s an exploration of courses beyond just your concentration, and I feel that especially with the system of Cores, it’s great to be able to check out lots of different classes within the Core areas.”

Stephanie U. Hodges ’06 pointed at the tremendous number of classes available as a reason for maintaining the current shopping system.

“It gives us the chance to look at different courses and find out what we don’t want to do and to help in the process of elimination,” Hodges said.

Faculty members, though supportive of student efforts, for the most part remained in favor of a preregistration system.

“I think it’s hard to shop and make serious pedagogical decisions at the same time,” said Professor of German Peter J. Burgard. “Logistical considerations can overtake pedagogical considerations during the compressed rush of shopping period,” he said, referring to the difficulties of trying to reconcile class and section times with academic requirements and other commitments.

Burgard said his most pressing argument for preregistration was that it would serve as an impetus for students to make academic plans ahead of time.

“Now they plan vaguely beforehand and plan intensively only during shopping period,” Burgard said. “Planning ahead isn’t assured by the current system. I think it would be assured by the plan [of preregistration].”

Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature Judith L. Ryan

pointed to the problem of hiring teaching fellows (TFs) as another reason to instate preregistration.

“It’s better to have the clear evidence of how many TFs you’re going to be using, to get them clued in ahead of time so they could work on the material,” said Ryan.

She recalled a law student that she once was forced to hire at the last minute for her class on author Franz Kafka. She said that although he knew the material very well, he’d simply had no previous experience with teaching.

Abby E. Carruthers ’04 suggested a compromise—instituting a preregistration system of sorts, with students signing up for classes ahead of time but still having a full week and a half to shop at the beginning of each semester. In contrast, the proposal currently on the table would shorten shopping period to one week.

Carruthers worried that a more binding system would only mean more paperwork and bureaucracy for students if they needed to make changes in their schedules.

But Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71 said he did not believe preregistration would mean the end of shopping period. “You’ll preregister for a number of courses; you’ll shop anything you want; there’ll be a very liberal add/drop period,” Gross said. “No one’s going to keep students out of classes.”

Gross said that with discussion of preregistration among the Faculty at large still in its infant stages, the petition would have different effects on different members of the Faculty.

He lauded students for their efforts in gathering support and said that the Undergraduate Council would have the opportunity to address the Faculty on preregistration if and when it is discussed at the meeting today.

Burgard predicted the petition might sway those members of the Faculty who are “on the fence” regarding the issue, though it would probably not change the minds of those who are in favor of preregistration now.

“[Shopping period] has become something of a sacred cow,” said Burgard. “I’m going to listen to the arguments and hope that some attention is paid to this pedagogical consideration that I think is the most important one.”

The petition has been delivered to Gross, University President Lawrence H. Summers, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz, Dean of Faculty William C. Kirby and Secretary of the Faculty John B. Fox Jr. ’59.

—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at krug@fas.harvard.edu.