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Q Guide Will Contain Two Questions on Textbook Costs

By Edith M. Herwitz, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: February 9, 2017 at 12:38 p.m.

In its first meeting of the semester Wednesday, the Committee on Undergraduate Education discussed two new Q Guide questions, a potential new schedule system based on 75 minute-long courses, and Harvard’s upcoming accreditation renewal process.

In an effort to gauge student textbook costs, the Q Guide—the College's course and instructor evaluation system—will contain two questions on the cost of course materials this spring, members of the committee said at the meeting. One question will ask students to specify how much money they spent on course textbooks, and another will ask for additional anecdotal information on the materials.

“The goal is to find out more about course costs,” said Elisabeth L. Laskin, assistant dean of Undergraduate Education, at the CUE meeting. “People talk about it a lot, but we don’t have any data to base it on. This is a way to start gathering this kind of data.”

The CUE also briefly discussed a potential new schedule to be introduced ahead of the opening of Harvard’s new SEAS complex in Allston, where roughly two-thirds of the SEAS faculty are slated to move in the fall of 2020.

To ensure students have sufficient time to travel between courses in Cambridge and Allston, the CUE discussed a new schedule with 75-minute course time slots, leaving 15 minutes for students to navigate to and from classes. Currently, undergraduate courses generally last either 53, 83, or 113 minutes, with seven minutes designated as an unofficial grace period between classes.

“Most of our schedule dates back to 1891 with a few minor changes in the 1910s,” Jay M. Harris, dean of undergraduate education, said. “Students are coming to class late all the time, through no fault of their own.”

Harris also said having classes be a standard length of 75 minutes will hopefully alleviate some scheduling problems that arise from some classes starting on the hour and others on the half hour.

The Faculty Council will vote on the decision to switch over to the new class schedule system in the coming months.

The CUE also discussed the Harvard's upcoming reaccreditation, a holistic review process conducted by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Harris said he hopes the reaccreditation will give Harvard the opportunity to reexamine many of its policies and procedures.

“We target educational effectiveness. We define that broadly. We really want to make sure we’re doing everything well and improve what we’re not doing well,” Harris said.

According to Noel Bisson, associate dean of undergraduate education, the CUE was founded in the 1960s to provide a forum for students and faculty members to discuss undergraduate education. Since then, members of the Undergraduate Council and a range of faculty members chosen from the Faculty Council have populated the committee.

CORRECTION: February 9, 2017

A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote to Lauren E. Raece, department administrator of the Office of Undergraduate Education.

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