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For the past month, in the academic equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, students and faculty have faced off with administrators against the backdrop of an educational Armageddon. Looming over us was not the threat of a nuclear winter, but that of an academic wasteland, devoid of choice and opportunity. But last week, in an unexpected maneuver reminiscent of Khrushchev’s withdrawal from Cuba, Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby backed down.
Last week, Kirby told the Crimson that he will not bring the proposal up for a Faculty vote anytime this spring.
But with preregistration tabled, it is more important than ever to address the underlying concerns that allowed us to reach the edge of this pedagogical abyss. Preregistration was only a makeshift solution to such fundamental problems as the poor quality of concentration advising, the misallocation of classroom space and the decreasing number of available teaching assistants. While we are certain that these issues will be addressed in the upcoming curricular review, in the interim the administration should take action to address these issues.
University Hall has pledged to set up a network of peer advising for first-years struggling to chose their concentration. This should be extended to concentration advising for upperclass students. Especially in the larger concentrations, like economics and government, students could benefit greatly from the collective experience of those who have gone before them. When choosing between two similar, required courses—such as Economics 1010b and Economics 1011b (both Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory)—the advice of a senior concentrator with recent experience in the course would be of far greater use than that of Joe Grad Student ’97.
Preregistration was designed to streamline the process of matching courses with large enough classrooms and enough well-prepared TFs. Though the plan raised more problems than it solved, the concept of asking students to indicate their choices in advance of the following semester is sound. By submitting a tentative plan of study, and leaving the current shopping period untouched, undergraduates could easily provide the University with additional statistics to supplement historical enrollments. Course sizes and curricula could be planned without imposing on students the undeniable pressure of seeking advising and definitively selecting courses.
There are other answers to the logistical nightmare of class planning. Currently, the registrar controls only 37 percent of the college’s classroom space, while the rest is controlled by the individual departments. If the registrar could assume control of all that space, then reallocating classes to rooms better suited to their size would become much simpler, at no cost to the University or its departments.
The decline in numbers of graduate student Teaching Fellows is due in part to the increasing number of research grants, which alleviate the financial need to teach multiple sections. This is excellent for those students and for the University, but damaging to undergraduates who receive a large part of their education from graduate TFs. There is no simple cure for this, although some incentive must be found to lure them back into undergraduate classrooms. With pre-submitted plans of study for each semester, Professors would at least have some help in determining how many assistants they need.
Hopefully the specter of preregistration is gone for good, and that these suggestions, or others like them, will be applied to the deeply-rooted flaws in much of the undergraduate curriculum. Improving the quality of instruction, which was the original motivation for the Administration’s plans, now lies with the curricular review. For now, preregistration can take its place in the pantheon of old news, next to Randy and Suzanne and the Snow Penis. Hopefully the still-needed reforms will not be next.
—Ashley B.T. Ma is a Crimson advertising manager.
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