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FAS Dean Gay Says She Supports Early Registration

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay. By Courtesy of Stephanie Mitchell - Harvard University
By Angela N. Fu and Lucy Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay voiced her support for an early registration system in an interview less than two weeks after the approval of a committee to develop a “shopping week” replacement.

An early registration system would eliminate “shopping week,” the Harvard tradition popular among undergraduates that allows students to try out courses during the first week of the semester before officially enrolling in them.

Instead, under an early registration system, students would register for classes before the start of the semester. Gay said she supports early registration because the system would help achieve her ultimate goal for courses — ensuring they are “pedagogically successful” for students.

Gay noted the difficulty for professors in planning course materials such as syllabi, assignments, and testswhen they don’t know how many people will enroll in their classes.

“What this syllabus, activities, assessments look like in a class with 80 students versus 150 students versus 15 are just different,” Gay said. “It takes time to build a course that makes sense and it's not the sort of thing you can do on the fly.”

Shopping week and the resulting uncertainty in enrollment numbers also poses an issue for professors trying to hire teaching fellows, according to Gay, who taught in the Government and African and African American Studies departments before assuming the role of FAS Dean. Gay said she usually starts working with her TFs well before each semester starts.

“There's a lot of advanced planning that's required,” Gay said. “When you find yourself in a situation where you’ve spent either two straight months working with and training the two TFs you think you’re going to need for your 80 person course and then 150 people show up and you need to find two or three other TFs that you’re just pulling at random from the Law School or the Kennedy School.”

Though some students praise shopping week for the opportunity to try out classes before enrolling, Gay said shopping week is not the best representation of what courses are like for students.

“The thing about shopping is that I think there's a tendency to believe that the information that you gain from attending a first class meeting during shopping week is somehow the highest quality of information that you can get about a course,” Gay said. “When, in fact, the very fact of shopping profoundly changes the dynamics of the class session at that time.”

At its most recent meeting in September, the Faculty Council — FAS’s highest governing body — voted to approve the convening of a committee to draft a proposal for an early registration system. Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh discussed the efforts to assess shopping week at an Undergraduate Council meeting Monday, encouraging undergraduates to weigh in on the issue.

Gay said she hopes the committee will act quickly and present a proposal to the Council by the end of the academic year.

“We've had so many conversations about early registration,” Gay said. “At some point, we just need to say yes or no and move on.”

—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22

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