Hours before students were supposed to meet with administrators at an Undergraduate Council town hall to discuss the possible elimination of “shopping week,” the College’s embattled course registration system, Harvard officials announced they had changed their minds.
In lieu of the student-run forum, College staffers will instead hold Harvard-led events at which students can share their thoughts on shopping week, Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh wrote in an email to undergraduates Monday afternoon.
A Harvard committee convened in Sept. 2018 and tasked with seeking alternatives to shopping week — the weeklong period during which students freely wander in and out of courses before officially enrolling — will host three “listening sessions” for undergraduates throughout October, according to Claybaugh’s email. Chaired by Philosophy professor Bernhard Nickel, the committee will spend fall 2018 exploring new ways undergraduates can sample and choose classes.
The committee will then formulate one or more proposals and present them to the Faculty Council, which will vote on the suggestions in the spring semester before passing the proposals to the full Faculty for a vote. The Council — the highest governing body of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — voted to approve the convening of the shopping week committee at one of its biweekly meetings in September.
Claybaugh wrote in an email to The Crimson Monday that the Undergraduate Council “agreed” to replace its town hall with three administrator-managed sessions. Sruthi Palaniappan ’20, the chair of the UC’s Education Committee, wrote in an emailed statement that Claybaugh “informed us late last week” of the change of plans.
“Administrators said these three listening events will be more productive as they are directly with the faculty committee working on the alternative proposals that will be voted on in the Spring,” Palaniappan wrote.
Undergraduate Council representatives plan to hold a shopping week “organizing session” Tuesday in place of the cancelled town hall. As of Monday evening, more than 100 Facebook users had marked themselves as “Going” to the nixed event — and more than 200 had marked themselves “Interested” in attending.
In her message to undergraduates Monday, Claybaugh wrote Harvard administrators are “no longer certain that the benefits of shopping period are worth the costs.”
The shopping week committee’s formation comes after years of back-and-forth among Harvard professors over whether to alter the College’s course registration process. The debate reignited at the March 2018 faculty meeting when Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana raised the topic, spurring denunciations of shopping week from several professors.
Khurana did not introduce a formal proposal to change Harvard’s class registration process at the time. Several months later, Claybaugh formally proposed switching to early registration at a September Faculty Council meeting. Under an early registration system, students would register for classes prior to the start of the semester.
The Council chose not to vote on Claybaugh’s proposal; it will instead wait for the shopping week committee to complete its work.
Multiple professors have said shopping week prevents them from planning for courses in advance and also creates uncertainty about the number of teaching fellows they need to train and hire. Graduate students have said the week of undergraduate indecision forces them into a state of limbo, unsure which courses they will be expected to teach.
In an interview earlier this month, FAS Dean Claudine Gay said she supports replacing shopping week with an early registration system.
Claybaugh wrote that the “listening sessions” will offer shopping week committee members more chances to hear from students.
“We wanted to have three sessions, rather than one, to multiply the opportunities for students to be heard,” Claybaugh wrote in an email.
Palaniappan wrote that she hopes the faculty committee will seriously weigh student input. She wrote the consideration of undergraduates’ voices should not become “just a formality.”
“Students need to be part of this conversation as shopping week is an integral aspect of the academic experience here at Harvard and something many people hold dear to their heart,” Palaniappan wrote.
Chloe A. Saracco ’21, who said she had planned to attend the UC town hall Tuesday, said she was “definitely disappointed” when she first heard the event was cancelled. But she added she is glad administrators will hold future listening sessions.
Without shopping week, Saracco said, “I would have been stuck in three or more courses that I would not have been excited about. I definitely want to express that to [administrators].”
The UC is currently surveying students to sample campus opinion on shopping week. The Council’s survey has garnered over 1,700 responses since representatives sent it out in early October, according to UC President Catherine L. Zhang ’19.
Going forward, Zhang wrote in an email, the UC plans to “use [the survey’s responses] to inform the way we advocate, since the Undergraduate Council wants to first and foremost be representative of student opinion.”
The three listening sessions will be held at the following times in the following locations:
Thursday, Oct. 18 from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Kates/Tobin Community Room at Quincy House
Wednesday, Oct. 24 from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Fishbowl Room at Currier House
Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Junior Common Room at Eliot House