First Day Sees Crowded Classes, Imprecise Pre-Term Planning

Hundreds of students pushed and crowded to fit into small, sweaty seminar classrooms on a sweltering first day of shopping week Tuesday, signaling that pre-term planning failed to accurately predict the number of students interested in enrolling in a number of courses once again.

Professor Caroline Light estimated that 150 students shopped her seminar class, Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1424: “American Fetish: Consumer Culture Encounters and the Other,” designed for 12 students.

“It was crazy,” Light said. “Originally my class was supposed to take place in a small seminar room in Boylston, so we moved upstairs to the Fong Auditorium, and it was packed.”

Light said that because the course is hands-on and intimate, she will have to implement a lottery, which means that the majority of students who shopped will not be able to enroll.

First Day Of Classes
Students gathered in lecture halls across campus on the first day of class on Tuesday. Some professors said that pre-term planning numbers were not an accurate predictor of course enrollment.

Though she said she was “delighted” to see so many people interested in her course, Light also noted that the often-great disparity between pre-term planning numbers and the actual number of people who shop courses points to larger issues in the shopping week system.

“It doesn’t really do anyone a great service to have these boom and bust cycles where classes can be really large or tiny,” she said.

Angela Lee ’14-’15, who shopped the course and hopes to enroll, said that it was “unfortunate” so many people wanted to take a course that could not accommodate them.

“I was shocked,” Lee said. “I got there ten minutes early and already the classroom was filled and people were loitering outside.”

Another course, Ethical Reasoning 30: “The Just World,” attracted around 140 students, according to professor Mathias Risse. Pre-term planning predicted only 59 students would take the course, Risse said.

“We also all know from experience that the number of people showing up on the first day is not a conclusive indicator of who will come back,” said Risse, who has been teaching at the University for 12 years. “I have given up making any predictions about enrollment,” he added.

Louis Menand, whose course, Humanities 10a: “The Humanities Colloquium: Essential Works 1,” saw 198 students apply for its lottery, said he had to cap his course at 90 even though he had only planned to enroll 75 students.

“Preterm planning has always been way off,” he said, adding that he plans to increase section sizes in the course.

Likewise, 75 students crowded their way into Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 11: “Poetry Without Borders,” which enrolled about fifteen students last year, according to professor Stephanie Sandler.

This increase in interest comes after UC President Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15 and Vice President Sietse K. Goffard ’15 sent an email to undergraduates in May jokingly encouraging them to mark the course on their pre-term planning in response to the announcement that the Q Guide would no longer display difficulty ratings.

Although Goffard said he believes the email was sent as a joke, he did acknowledge that the email may have drawn more people to consider shopping the course.

“I think it’s most plausible to explain the large increase by the fact that we did increase attention and focus on that class,” Goffard said.

He added, “I think most people did see, including ourselves, [the email] was meant to be somewhat humorous…. In all seriousness, we did not want people to sign up for that class in large numbers as a protest.”

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.


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