Pondering Pre-registration

Though some form of shopping period has been a Harvard tradition for a century, Graduate Students suggest it may be time for a change.

Do you know what classes you're taking next year?

A new proposal by the Graduate Student Council (GSC) has reinvigorated an age-old conflict between graduates and undergraduates about the idea of pre-registration.

Graduate students say that uncertain undergraduate enrollment in large classes often leaves them out of a job and searching for funds.

Adam P. Fagen, president of the GSC, recently proposed to the Undergraduate Council the creation of a non-binding system of preregistration for undergraduates.

But undergrads have often cited shopping period as one of the few things that an often large and unfriendly University does to look out for the welfare of its students.


The Conflict

Currently, there is no way for professors to know in advance the size of their classes, hence teaching fellows (TFs) and teaching assistants (non-graduate students hired as teachers) sometimes have to be laid-off for under-enrolled classes.

Jay L. Ellison, head TF for the "Literature and Arts C-37: The Bible and its Interpreters," says he has seen cases where teachers have been squeezed out because of under-enrollment.

"We ended up with very low enrollment, and this other TF and I had to flip a coin," says Ellison, who won the coin toss. (The loser is now at another university.) "If you are told you are going to have a position [and the course is under-enrolled] there are times when you can't get another job."

Erika E.S. Evasdottir, a TF in Women Studies 10a, says she has also seen situations where students have lost jobs because of variable class sizes but says she is still close enough to her undergrad days to sympathize with student concerns.

"I have totally been there when there have been four teaching fellows and someone had to go. It is a pain," Evasdottir says.

A standard, full-year, two course teaching load pays third and fourth year graduate students as much as $13,440, according to Russell E. Berg, dean for admissions and financial aid in the GSAS. (First and second year grad students receive stipends of up to $11,250 and usually do not teach.)

That means each course is worth about $3,000 of the $16,000 the financial aid office estimates a graduate student needs to live.

"The teaching fellows program is vital to their future academic experience, often leads to improved dissertation research...but its critical importance is its financial support," Berg says.

Evasdottir says it is sometimes possible to shift out the person who has another teaching fellow job, but that such a solution is not always possible.