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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Preregistration: Administrative Boon or Burden?

Students, Professors Disagree on Merits

By Sarah J. Schaffer

When Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology Irven DeVore first offered his course on behavioral biology in 1961, 900 students showed up.

"People were paying up to $75 to get a place in the first 300 places in line," DeVore says. "It's not because they knew who I was, or cared. It was just in this case that an appropriate course in the general education program in what we now call Science B had not been given in a few years."

It was the huge demand for his course and others that made the Faculty reconsider the College's system of enrollment for classes, DeVore says.

"They began discussing preregistration that very same year," he says.

Since then, the suggestion of preregistration for classes--signing up for courses the semester before--has come up again and again in Faculty discussions.

"It's an old thing that comes back just about every year," says Professor of Fine Arts Henri T. Zerner.

Sure enough, the issue resurfaced once more at a Faculty Council meeting two weeks ago. The council did not draft a proposal but decided to gather more information and discuss the problem--again--in the fall.

Professor of English and American Literature and Language Daniel G. Donoghue sys that given the tenor of the Council's discussion, he thinks it unlikely that preregistration will be implemented soon.

"It's really hard to tell," Donoghue says. "Our discussion was so preliminary, it was basically anecdotal. That's not really a god sense for coming to a final decision."

According to secretary to the Faculty Council John B. Fox Jr. '59, the earliest preregistration could be implemented is next spring.

Many faculty members, especially those who teach large Core courses, say they believe preregistration would help them gauge their class enrollments more accurately. Knowing an approximate enrollment the semester before a class is offered, they say, would allow them to plan Their classes more effectively and predict the number of teaching fellows (TFs) they will need.

Some facutly members, however, say they are not sure that the predicted enrollments will be accurate enough to make the paperwork of preregistration worthwhile.

Most students interviewed say they oppose preregistration. They argue that they want the flexibility of a shopping period without preregistration

Harvard and the Other Ivies

Signing up for classes after a shopping period has been the protocol here for as long as anyone at Harvard canremember. [Harvard century].

Although a policy of preregistration mightchange shopping period in some ways, any plan theFaculty Council proposes will not eliminateshopping period.

"There is no possibility of doing away withshopping period," says Associate Professor of theClassics Cynthia Damon, a Council member.

The discussion is still in preliminary stages,however.

"I do not know whether or how shopping periodmight be modified if preregistration wereadopted," writes Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R.Knowles in a fax. "Schools that havepreregistration all allow some flexibility forcourse (which really amounts to limitedshopping)."

Students at other Ivy League schools sign upfor classes in a variety of ways, but those at allschools except for Yale preregister.

Yale's system is identical to Harvard's exceptthat shopping period is two weeks instead of one,according to Maria A. Capecelatro, officeassistant to the undergraduate registrar's officeat Yale.

Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth and the Universityof Pennsylvania have preregistration in thespring and a free add/drop period during the firstfew weeks of classes. Students at Cornell sign upfor classes the week before courses start.

"Princeton doesn't like to call it a shoppingperiod, but that's what [students] like to do thefirst two weeks, because they change every coursethey can find," says Jill C. Weston, officeassistant to the registrar at Princeton.

At Dartmouth, "all limited courses are handledon a priority basis" during preregistration, saysAssociate Registrar Nancy O. Broadhead. This year,about 25 courses were "overstuffed" for the fallterm, she says. Professors can decide how to givepriority, say, to senior concentrators orinterested first-years.

One Harvard student says he likes Harvard'ssystem because it makes it difficult to limit thesize of classes.

"At other schools, if you register early, theylimit the class size," says Rohan Hazelton '96."Here, they can hardly ever turn away a student,except for a few classes that are lotteried."

Registrar Georgene B. Herschbach says thatsince Harvard limits the enrollment of very fewcourses, a system of preregistration would have tobe carefully planned.

"Given that we have relatively few courses thatlimit enrollment, we'd have to be clever aboutdesigning a system everyone would take seriously,"Herschbach says.

In its preliminary discussions, the Council hasmade no decision about the form preregistrationwould take if Harvard adopted it.

Preregistration would require careful advisingand an earlier deadline for Courses ofInstruction, Herschbach says.

"We are currently on a schedule that means thecatalog isn't even complete when we go to pressaround July 4," Herschbach says. "We would have tohave a very different catalog deadline, anddepartments in turn would have to makeappointments earlier, or make decisions aboutcourse offerings earlier, and to recognize thatthey have to be stable."

At least one student says she would like forthe course catalog to be available earlier.

"I think it would be cool if we knew beforeSeptember what classes were being offered," saysMelissa S. Chin '97.

Preregistration also could reduce bookshortages, if the Coop, which has a tendency tounderstock for large classes, took the numbersseriously.

"It would give professors an idea of how manybooks to order," says Thomas J. Brown, head TF for"Historical Study B-42: The Civil War," lastspring.

TF Problems

Professors say they support preregistrationprimarily so they can hire TFs and tell themwhether they have jobs before the semester begins.

Now, professors say, especially in large Coreclasses, the numbers are so volatile that theyoften must either scramble to find additional TFsor, conversely, tell TFs that they do not haveposition for them. Even if preregistration wouldnot give them exact numbers, they feel it would atleast give them a better idea of what to expect.

Kirk A. Williams, head TF for this spring'sLiterature and Arts A-18, "Fairy Tales and theCulture of Childhood," says he and the professorhad anticipated only 40 people, 80 maximum.

"The first day of class came, [and] we hadabout 550 people show up," Williams says."Something can be said for preregistration,because we had that wide discrepancy."

About 245 students actually registered for thecourse, Williams says.

The staffing worked our well in the end,Williams says. He and other TFs took additionalsections, and since, as a tutor in Kirkland House,he had heard students discussing the class, he hadbegun to look for more TFs in late January.

Mid-semester student evaluations rated the TFshighly, Williams says, but "it could have been adisaster."

"If you had talked to me in February, I wouldnot have sounded so rosy," he says.

Associate Professor of History EllenFitzpatrick, a Council member, points out that thelast-minute scramble for TFs can sometimes leaveclasses with less qualified section leaders.

"As it is, sometimes people are rushing aroundat the last minute to staff a course and thisdoesn't do any one any good," Fitzpatrick says."Certainly it is not in the interest of theundergraduates."

Young Professor of Sino-Vietnamese HistoryHue-Tam Ho Tai, who taught the large courseHistorical Study B-68, "America and Vietnam:1945-1975" this spring, says students can beshort-changed by TFs found at the last minute.

"I don't think it's good for students to haveTFs who have just been added on at the last minutewithout training," Tai says. "There's apossibility that people who have a certaininterest in teaching particular courses havealready signed up. You may have to go and try toget any teaching fellow at all."

Enrollment lower than a professor expected canalso be a problem, says Gleason Professor of FineArts Neil Levine, who taught the large courseLiterature and Arts B-33, "Frank Lloyd Wright,"this spring.

"You always have [TFs] in mind, even though youcan't firmly pin them down and say that this isgoing to work," Levine says. "I've always beencareful not to give people any hope."

Teaching fellows themselves say thatpreregistration would give them security and allowthem to plan classes in advance.

"As a person who relies on teaching jobs forpaying my rent, [preregistration] would create thepossibility for more stability and security andplanning," says Lida Junghans, a seventh-yearanthropology student who was a TF for ForeignCultures 62, "Chinese Family, Marriage andKinship," in 1993-94.

The Numbers

One key question administrators and professorshave about preregistration is whether the numberof students who sign up for a class in the springwill match the number who show up in the fall.

"It would be useful to know the administrativecosts and the number of changes that would affectthe enrollments in a course, whether it was peoplepassing in and out or whether it was major up anddown swings," Council member Damon says.

The Council left its last discussion aboutpreregistration with a decision to investigatethat topic. The exploration process will likelyinclude the offices of the dean of undergraduateeducation, the registrar and the dean of theCollege, according to Council Secretary Fox.

The costs, Registrar Herschbach says, woulddepend upon the form of preregistration.

"If the Faculty decides to adopt apreregistration system and to do this in a timeafter we have developed our electronic capabilityto handle it online, the costs obviously would bemuch lower they would be if we were to institute apaper system now."

Dartmouth uses an on-line system ofpreregistration.

At other schools, the numbers of studentsusually stay the same, but the students themselvesmay have changed, Herschbach says.

"It's impossible to know in advance howaccurate those numbers would be," Herschbach says."In similar institutions, preregistration numbersare pretty good predictors of the final totalenrollment, but the particular individualsenrolled are usually quite different from thosethat enrolled in the preregistration."

But council member Gary J. Feldman, Bairdprofessor of science, says he wonders ifpreregistration would provide accurate numbers.

"I am a little dubious that preregistrationwould help us very much because students wouldstill shop for courses and enrollments mightchange anyway," Feldman says.

Questions and Drawbacks

Most students interviewed say that are againstpreregistration because it limits theirflexibility to choose classes and delay thosechoices until shopping period.

"It sucks," says Michelle K. Hoffman '95. "Youhave less choice. You have fewer options. It'sreducing us to one of those enormous stateinstitutions where you have very little choice."

Michele R. Kawamoto '95, who transferred fromDartmouth when she was a junior, says she prefersthe freedom Harvard's system gives.

"I like it better the way it is here," Kawamotosays. "You can test out the professors. If you're[signing up] a semester before, you're not goingto get a syllabus and you're not going to see theprofessors."

An add/drop period would be more of a nuisancethan shopping period, many students say.

"I like how it is now," says Jennifer A.Ludovic '97. "Then you don't have to decide untilyou get back to school and you don't have to gothrough the paperwork of add/drop."

Patricia Larash '97 agrees that shopping periodleaves room for procrastination.

"I like the extended period of denial that wehave," Larash says. "Shopping period is nicebecause then you can blow off class withimpunity."

Elizabeth M. Haynes '95-'96, who transferredfrom Georgetown her sophomore year, says Harvardsets an important tone with shopping period.

"By having a shopping period, Harvard is makinga statement on how important it is that you havethe right classes," Haynes says.

But a few students say they see the other sideof the argument.

"I do think professors should knowapproximately how many students they will have,"says Edith A. Replogle '96. "There are also[class] room problems. You miss a day or you can'tfind anyplace to sit."

Herschbach seconds this concern."Preregistration would reduce the uncertainty forus" in scheduling classrooms, Herschbach says,although she adds that the registrar's office isusually pretty good at predicting enrollments.

And Marvin V. Caze '98 says knowing his classesthe semester beforehand would help students aswell.

"There's an advantage in that you get studentsthinking about exactly what they want to do," Cazesays, adding that he could get to know theprofessor ahead of time and start reading thebooks over the summer.

Although many students want to keep the systemthe way it is, DeVore says he does not thinkpreregistration' would have that much effect onstudents' lives.

"I don't see any great disadvantage for theundergraduates as long as you still have a week orso in which to change your mind," DeVore says.

And N. Van Taylor '96-'95 says preregistrationwill not make much difference for students

"It's just an exchange of information," Taylorsay. "It's not the end of the world."CrimsonGabriel B. EberWill signing study cards after shoppingperiod become a thing of the past?

Although a policy of preregistration mightchange shopping period in some ways, any plan theFaculty Council proposes will not eliminateshopping period.

"There is no possibility of doing away withshopping period," says Associate Professor of theClassics Cynthia Damon, a Council member.

The discussion is still in preliminary stages,however.

"I do not know whether or how shopping periodmight be modified if preregistration wereadopted," writes Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R.Knowles in a fax. "Schools that havepreregistration all allow some flexibility forcourse (which really amounts to limitedshopping)."

Students at other Ivy League schools sign upfor classes in a variety of ways, but those at allschools except for Yale preregister.

Yale's system is identical to Harvard's exceptthat shopping period is two weeks instead of one,according to Maria A. Capecelatro, officeassistant to the undergraduate registrar's officeat Yale.

Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth and the Universityof Pennsylvania have preregistration in thespring and a free add/drop period during the firstfew weeks of classes. Students at Cornell sign upfor classes the week before courses start.

"Princeton doesn't like to call it a shoppingperiod, but that's what [students] like to do thefirst two weeks, because they change every coursethey can find," says Jill C. Weston, officeassistant to the registrar at Princeton.

At Dartmouth, "all limited courses are handledon a priority basis" during preregistration, saysAssociate Registrar Nancy O. Broadhead. This year,about 25 courses were "overstuffed" for the fallterm, she says. Professors can decide how to givepriority, say, to senior concentrators orinterested first-years.

One Harvard student says he likes Harvard'ssystem because it makes it difficult to limit thesize of classes.

"At other schools, if you register early, theylimit the class size," says Rohan Hazelton '96."Here, they can hardly ever turn away a student,except for a few classes that are lotteried."

Registrar Georgene B. Herschbach says thatsince Harvard limits the enrollment of very fewcourses, a system of preregistration would have tobe carefully planned.

"Given that we have relatively few courses thatlimit enrollment, we'd have to be clever aboutdesigning a system everyone would take seriously,"Herschbach says.

In its preliminary discussions, the Council hasmade no decision about the form preregistrationwould take if Harvard adopted it.

Preregistration would require careful advisingand an earlier deadline for Courses ofInstruction, Herschbach says.

"We are currently on a schedule that means thecatalog isn't even complete when we go to pressaround July 4," Herschbach says. "We would have tohave a very different catalog deadline, anddepartments in turn would have to makeappointments earlier, or make decisions aboutcourse offerings earlier, and to recognize thatthey have to be stable."

At least one student says she would like forthe course catalog to be available earlier.

"I think it would be cool if we knew beforeSeptember what classes were being offered," saysMelissa S. Chin '97.

Preregistration also could reduce bookshortages, if the Coop, which has a tendency tounderstock for large classes, took the numbersseriously.

"It would give professors an idea of how manybooks to order," says Thomas J. Brown, head TF for"Historical Study B-42: The Civil War," lastspring.

TF Problems

Professors say they support preregistrationprimarily so they can hire TFs and tell themwhether they have jobs before the semester begins.

Now, professors say, especially in large Coreclasses, the numbers are so volatile that theyoften must either scramble to find additional TFsor, conversely, tell TFs that they do not haveposition for them. Even if preregistration wouldnot give them exact numbers, they feel it would atleast give them a better idea of what to expect.

Kirk A. Williams, head TF for this spring'sLiterature and Arts A-18, "Fairy Tales and theCulture of Childhood," says he and the professorhad anticipated only 40 people, 80 maximum.

"The first day of class came, [and] we hadabout 550 people show up," Williams says."Something can be said for preregistration,because we had that wide discrepancy."

About 245 students actually registered for thecourse, Williams says.

The staffing worked our well in the end,Williams says. He and other TFs took additionalsections, and since, as a tutor in Kirkland House,he had heard students discussing the class, he hadbegun to look for more TFs in late January.

Mid-semester student evaluations rated the TFshighly, Williams says, but "it could have been adisaster."

"If you had talked to me in February, I wouldnot have sounded so rosy," he says.

Associate Professor of History EllenFitzpatrick, a Council member, points out that thelast-minute scramble for TFs can sometimes leaveclasses with less qualified section leaders.

"As it is, sometimes people are rushing aroundat the last minute to staff a course and thisdoesn't do any one any good," Fitzpatrick says."Certainly it is not in the interest of theundergraduates."

Young Professor of Sino-Vietnamese HistoryHue-Tam Ho Tai, who taught the large courseHistorical Study B-68, "America and Vietnam:1945-1975" this spring, says students can beshort-changed by TFs found at the last minute.

"I don't think it's good for students to haveTFs who have just been added on at the last minutewithout training," Tai says. "There's apossibility that people who have a certaininterest in teaching particular courses havealready signed up. You may have to go and try toget any teaching fellow at all."

Enrollment lower than a professor expected canalso be a problem, says Gleason Professor of FineArts Neil Levine, who taught the large courseLiterature and Arts B-33, "Frank Lloyd Wright,"this spring.

"You always have [TFs] in mind, even though youcan't firmly pin them down and say that this isgoing to work," Levine says. "I've always beencareful not to give people any hope."

Teaching fellows themselves say thatpreregistration would give them security and allowthem to plan classes in advance.

"As a person who relies on teaching jobs forpaying my rent, [preregistration] would create thepossibility for more stability and security andplanning," says Lida Junghans, a seventh-yearanthropology student who was a TF for ForeignCultures 62, "Chinese Family, Marriage andKinship," in 1993-94.

The Numbers

One key question administrators and professorshave about preregistration is whether the numberof students who sign up for a class in the springwill match the number who show up in the fall.

"It would be useful to know the administrativecosts and the number of changes that would affectthe enrollments in a course, whether it was peoplepassing in and out or whether it was major up anddown swings," Council member Damon says.

The Council left its last discussion aboutpreregistration with a decision to investigatethat topic. The exploration process will likelyinclude the offices of the dean of undergraduateeducation, the registrar and the dean of theCollege, according to Council Secretary Fox.

The costs, Registrar Herschbach says, woulddepend upon the form of preregistration.

"If the Faculty decides to adopt apreregistration system and to do this in a timeafter we have developed our electronic capabilityto handle it online, the costs obviously would bemuch lower they would be if we were to institute apaper system now."

Dartmouth uses an on-line system ofpreregistration.

At other schools, the numbers of studentsusually stay the same, but the students themselvesmay have changed, Herschbach says.

"It's impossible to know in advance howaccurate those numbers would be," Herschbach says."In similar institutions, preregistration numbersare pretty good predictors of the final totalenrollment, but the particular individualsenrolled are usually quite different from thosethat enrolled in the preregistration."

But council member Gary J. Feldman, Bairdprofessor of science, says he wonders ifpreregistration would provide accurate numbers.

"I am a little dubious that preregistrationwould help us very much because students wouldstill shop for courses and enrollments mightchange anyway," Feldman says.

Questions and Drawbacks

Most students interviewed say that are againstpreregistration because it limits theirflexibility to choose classes and delay thosechoices until shopping period.

"It sucks," says Michelle K. Hoffman '95. "Youhave less choice. You have fewer options. It'sreducing us to one of those enormous stateinstitutions where you have very little choice."

Michele R. Kawamoto '95, who transferred fromDartmouth when she was a junior, says she prefersthe freedom Harvard's system gives.

"I like it better the way it is here," Kawamotosays. "You can test out the professors. If you're[signing up] a semester before, you're not goingto get a syllabus and you're not going to see theprofessors."

An add/drop period would be more of a nuisancethan shopping period, many students say.

"I like how it is now," says Jennifer A.Ludovic '97. "Then you don't have to decide untilyou get back to school and you don't have to gothrough the paperwork of add/drop."

Patricia Larash '97 agrees that shopping periodleaves room for procrastination.

"I like the extended period of denial that wehave," Larash says. "Shopping period is nicebecause then you can blow off class withimpunity."

Elizabeth M. Haynes '95-'96, who transferredfrom Georgetown her sophomore year, says Harvardsets an important tone with shopping period.

"By having a shopping period, Harvard is makinga statement on how important it is that you havethe right classes," Haynes says.

But a few students say they see the other sideof the argument.

"I do think professors should knowapproximately how many students they will have,"says Edith A. Replogle '96. "There are also[class] room problems. You miss a day or you can'tfind anyplace to sit."

Herschbach seconds this concern."Preregistration would reduce the uncertainty forus" in scheduling classrooms, Herschbach says,although she adds that the registrar's office isusually pretty good at predicting enrollments.

And Marvin V. Caze '98 says knowing his classesthe semester beforehand would help students aswell.

"There's an advantage in that you get studentsthinking about exactly what they want to do," Cazesays, adding that he could get to know theprofessor ahead of time and start reading thebooks over the summer.

Although many students want to keep the systemthe way it is, DeVore says he does not thinkpreregistration' would have that much effect onstudents' lives.

"I don't see any great disadvantage for theundergraduates as long as you still have a week orso in which to change your mind," DeVore says.

And N. Van Taylor '96-'95 says preregistrationwill not make much difference for students

"It's just an exchange of information," Taylorsay. "It's not the end of the world."CrimsonGabriel B. EberWill signing study cards after shoppingperiod become a thing of the past?

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