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Despite some reservations expressed by its student members, the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) moved the College one step closer to requiring students to preregister for their classes yesterday when it slotted early course selection as a discussion item for the Faculty’s next meeting.
On Feb. 11, the Faculty is scheduled to debate preregistration but will not vote up or down on the proposal at that meeting. It may, however, decide to revisit the issue for a vote at a later meeting.
The institution of early course selection at Harvard was first suggested by Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby last summer and was subsequently discussed by both the CUE and the Faculty Council this fall. Gross said the topic was also debated in various student and faculty meetings over the course of the semester.
During such debates preregistration proponents argued that getting students to commit earlier would allow for better advising and classroom planning, while
others expressed concern that preregistration would restrict students’ freedom in choosing classes without delivering any concrete advantages.
But yesterday, most of the concerns were focused on logistics.
The student representatives on the CUE were mainly concerned with how, under a preregistration system, undergraduates would be able to access all the information they would need in order to make informed decisions.
Faculty members on the committee acknowledged these concerns, and noted that if students are expected to select their courses before they’ve had a chance to “shop” them, the importance of course websites will become paramount.
Dean of Undergraduate Educaton Benedict H. Gross ’71 assured the students that instructors would be encouraged to maintain comprehensive websites.
“In some ways, [preregistration] puts less pressure on the faculty to do a song and dance the first week of class,” Gross said. “Now they have to present an attractive website.”
If ultimately adopted, the system could be implemented next fall, requiring students to register as early as December for Spring 2004 classes.
At yesterday’s meeting the CUE— a group of students, professors and deans who discuss and shape all policy proposals before they are voted on by the full Faculty—hammered out the logistics of how early course selection would differ from the current registration system.
Under the proposal, shopping period would proceed as usual for the 2003 fall semester. But in mid-November, students would receive spring study cards as well as information packets about courses available for the coming semester.
The cards would then be submitted in the beginning of December and instructors teaching limited-enrollment courses would select their students during the following two weeks, according to Associate Dean of Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz.
“Study cards will now serve as a mechanism for gathering all students that are interested,” Wolcowitz said. He called it an improvement over the current system, where professors must wait until the end of shopping period to find out how many students will be taking their classes.
Thus, if the proposal is passed, starting with the spring 2004 semester, shopping period as it has previously existed will no longer occur.
Rather, during the first week of classes, a “liberal add/drop policy” will be in place, allowing students to make decisions about schedule changes based on classes they attend that week—without incurring any fees.
They will, however, need the signatures of instructors whose courses they are adding, as well as those of their freshman or concentration advisers.
Even if the switch to preregistration does happen, Gross noted, it would not necessarily be a permanent policy change, since it would be reviewed and evaluated over the course of the next three to five years.
Also at yesterday’s meeting, CUE member Alex B. Patterson ’02-’03 formally proposed an extension of the deadline for dropping courses—now the fifth Monday of the term. CUE members discussed making the drop period two weeks longer.
But even with those changes, the last date for adding courses would remain the same, raising concerns that students would not be able to take full courseloads should they choose to drop a class late.
Patterson’s proposal will go before the Faculty Council to be further discussed and possibly reworked. The full Faculty may then discuss the reworked proposal at an unspecified later date.
Gross said yesterday he liked the flexibility Patterson’s proposal would give students.
“We want to be experimental about it,” said Gross. “We want to give them those extra two weeks to play around with [their schedules].”
—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at email@example.com.
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