EVERY NEW SEMESTER, students compile a list of eight or nine classes they may want to take in the term ahead, and prepare themselves to choose among them. And at the end of every 10-day shopping period, their failure to survive a lottery for one or more of their potential courses often causes many to enroll in classes they have not yet even attended.
Getting "lotteried" out of any course is never a pleasant situation. A recent editorial in this space called for the University to meet the need for section leaders in oversubscribed courses, so that fewer students would be excluded. However, an interim, and perhaps a permanent, solution to this problem would be to standardize methods of lotterying courses, so that students would have a better idea, sooner, of their chances of admission, and could plan accordingly.
Lottery standardization would not create any more space within any particular class. However, requiring that lotteries be held no later than the second meeting of a course (or at least one week before study cards were due) would allow students to look at other courses offered in the same time slots, and would prevent them from scrambling for fourth subjects the day study cards are due. And standardizing procedures would alleviate some of the doubts about chances for admission.
A requirement to exclude all auditors before any lottery was held would allow professors to estimate the actual number of section leaders needed and the size of the classroom required.
A requirement to cut non-concentrators from departmental courses before concentration would allow students to take the required courses in their major field without administrative hassles.
A requirement that all Core courses have completely random lotteries, without giving preference to certain concentrators or to seniors and juniors, would establish a fair guidelines for choosing applicants, given that after this year all students will need the to take same number of Core courses. The only exception to this rule should be that made by Stephen Gay Gould in his perennial lottery for Science B-16, "History of the Earth and of Life": all applicants who have been rejected twice in previous years should receive preferred status for admission.
AS WITH ANY RULE, there will, of course be exceptions. There are courses, such as Lit & Arts A-40 ("Shakespeare") or Social Analysis 10 ("Principles of Economics"), which are Core offerings, but which are also required for particular concentrations. But Leither of these courses has held lotteries so far, and should such a departmentally-required course appear which must be limited, the Core committee could establish a standard procedure for lotteries.
In any case, exceptions are just that. The majority of courses are either departmental or Core, and there ought to be two standard sets of rules for limiting enrollment.
Standardization of lotteries among all courses would let each and every student know his or her chances of gaining admission to every course. While such guidelines would not alleviate over-subscription, they would allow all undergraduates to make more reasoned and informed choices, earlier, about their plans of study, and would eliminate grumbling about "unfair" or "haphazard" lotteries half way through shopping week. Moreover, students could choose alternative courses on the third or fourth day of shopping period, rather than the last.