For some students hoping to take Moral Reasoning 22, “Justice,” course selection this fall has brought an unexpected lesson: Sometimes, life is just unfair.
With more than 1,000 students enrolled this term, Bass Professor of Government Michael J. Sandel’s long-standing Core course is being capped for the first time in its history.
“Justice” tops the list of most popular courses this fall, according to enrollment figures from the Office of the Registrar’s website.
The second-most popular course, Social Analysis 10, “Principles of Economics,” saw a slight increase in enrollment under the new course head, Beren Professor of Economics N. Gregory Mankiw. Ec 10 currently has 692 students enrolled, compared with 638 last fall—the final year in which Baker Professor of Economics Martin S. Feldstein ’61 taught the course.
The new foundational science course Life Sciences 1a, “An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences: Chemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology,” has the third-highest enrollment with 482 students.
While this year is not the first in which “Justice” is the largest course, the 1,028 students currently taking the class gives the highest enrollment figure yet. In the fall of 2003, when the course was last offered, 902 students enrolled.
With Sanders Theatre overflowing and sections filled, “Justice” teaching fellows are maintaining a wait list as they try to find room for more students.
Sandel said he thinks a large class size sparks more lively debate.
“One advantage of a large class is that students share a common intellectual experience. Discussions of John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant spill out of Sanders Theater into the Houses and dining halls,” he wrote in an e-mail.
To ensure that these intellectual discussions can take place, Sandel poses questions to the lecture hall and offers students a chance to respond.
This year a “Justice Blog” was created on the course website to allow students to voice their opinions on a message board that Brian P. Fiske ’07, a student in the course, compares to “one huge thousand-person section.”
Even though “Justice” is larger than ever, students who made it in under the cap said they didn’t feel overwhelmed by the crowd.
“Even though it is very big, I think Sandel does a really good job at allowing some level of participation during lecture,” said Sara F. Eckhouse ’06.
“It’s the biggest class at Harvard for a reason,” added Fiske. “Sandel is a great lecturer. He guides the students very well and gets what he wants from them.”
The “Justice Blog” is just one tool large courses are employing this fall to maintain student interaction.
Science A-47, “Cosmic Connections,” the fourth largest course with 335 students, uses Personal Response Systems (PRS) to involve students in the lectures.
These gadgets allow students to “click in” their answers to questions posed by Assistant Professor of Astronomy David Charbonneau.
By using this system, Charbonneau said he can ensure that students are staying up-to-date on the reading and mastering the basic principles of physics.
“It also keeps the level of energy up in the lectures quite a bit,” he said.
Kristen H. Tracey ’08, a student in the course, agreed.
“It makes us feel more responsible for coming to lecture and keeping up with the material,” she said.
But in Life Sciences 1a, some students said they were frustrated by the large size.
Saachi Sachdev ’09, who enrolled in the course to begin to fulfill pre-med requirements, said of the size that it “definitely is kind of unsettling and a little disappointing.”