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Kirby’s Preregistration Decision Correct

Letter to the editors

By Peter Ellison and Benedict H. Gross, BENEDICT H. GROSS AND PETER ELLISONs

To the editors:

Beyond all the rhetoric and emotion surrounding the debate over pre-registration there remains an important principle and a significant problem (Staff Editorial, “Kirby Chooses His Course,” March 14). The principle, to which hopefully we all subscribe, is that the quality of the educational experience at Harvard should be the finest that we can attain, for both undergraduate and graduate students alike. The problem, which hopefully we can all acknowledge, is that putting off the definitive staffing of courses until after the term has already started is inconsistent with that goal. Quality instruction requires preparation, often preparation that is very specific to the syllabus of the course. In humanities and social science courses, for example, this preparation often involves mastery of numerous texts or similar materials. A hastily assembled or filled out teaching staff cannot possibly have adequate or uniform preparation. At the same time, graduate students who are unable to plan their academic effort in advance, including that part of their effort devoted to teaching and preparing to teach, cannot possibly make the most effective academic progress. Undergraduate students have made it clear that they also value very highly the ability to sample courses directly before enrolling. Together we must now find a away to preserve the benefits of shopping period while at the same time meeting our educational responsibilities to both undergraduate and graduate students.

We therefore fully support Dean Kirby’s call for a fuller discussion of alternatives to pre-registration as a mechanism for meeting our educational responsibilities. The goal should be mechanisms that will allow course staff to be appointed well in advance, both to ensure proper preparation and training, and to provide an adequate horizon for academic planning by graduate students. Any proposed solution to this problem will almost certainly involve the prediction of course enrollments. The more accurately those predictions can be made, the less likely we will be faced with a choice between capping course enrollments or abandoning the commitment to an adequately prepared teaching staff.

The most important thing is for us to come together as a community to find a way to more closely approach the goal that we surely all share, making a Harvard education, whether undergraduate or graduate, second to none.

Benedict H. Gross ’71

Peter Ellison

March 18, 2003

The writers are the Dean for Undergraduate Education and the Dean of Graduate Education respectively.

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