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Grad Students Hear Proposal for Early Registration, 'Digital' Shopping Week at Town Hall

The Graduate Student Council listened to administrators detail a possible replacement for shopping week at a meeting Wednesday.
The Graduate Student Council listened to administrators detail a possible replacement for shopping week at a meeting Wednesday. By Shera S. Avi-Yonah
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah, Crimson Staff Writer

Shopping week may one day be a virtual experience.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar Michael P. Burke detailed what a replacement for the current course registration system could look like at a Graduate Student Council town hall Wednesday evening, suggesting the College is seriously exploring a shift to early registration. Such a switch would cancel shopping week, the traditional course registration process that allows Harvard students to freely walk in and out of classes to sample them during the first week of the semester before making final selections.

Burke said an early registration system might include a “digital” shopping period during which students could watch online materials to preview courses. He said tools like Canvas and the “Q” Guide, an online system that aggregates student feedback on Harvard courses and instructors, lessen the need for shopping week.

At the request of the Faculty Council — the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ highest governing body — Burke is currently forming a panel to propose a new system by which students can select courses. The possibility of a new registration setup first surfaced at a March Faculty meeting when Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana broached the subject, though he did not offer any kind of formal proposal at the time. Many professors spoke in favor of the idea.

Given the number of students taking any particular course remains in flux until the end of the week and given teaching fellows are typically alloted based on class size, the current structure of shopping week means professors are sometimes forced to hire or dismiss teaching fellows on very short notice. Graduate students have long complained of shopping week-induced headaches, lamenting the fact that their teaching positions remain in limbo while undergraduates finalize their schedules.

Many undergraduate students, however, have praised shopping week for its flexibility. Some say they appreciate the chance to try out classes before formally enrolling.

The Council heard a proposal to switch to early registration from Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh at its last meeting on Sept. 12. The proposal advocated replacing shopping week with a system that would require students to enroll in courses before the beginning of the semester. Students would then have time to add or drop courses if they wished.Burke added that graduate teaching fellows would likely benefit from such change. He said the current system “creates havoc and has a real life impact for grad students.”

After hearing Burke’s proposal, several attendees said they would favor a move to early registration. GSC representative DeAnza A. Cook said that, while undergraduates may moan over the loss of shopping week, the proposed change would ultimately “enhance the undergraduate educational experience.”

“Teaching fellows would be better prepared to actually teach the classes and work collaboratively with faculty earlier than what shopping week allows,” she said.

Michael Ortiz, a first-year graduate student who also sits on the GSC, said he hopes the Faculty Council will prioritize the needs of graduate students in their deliberations.

“On the practical side, my sympathies lie with the teaching fellows and the difficulties that occur when you don’t have a final roster for classes,” he said. “I’m hoping that the administration will keep them in mind.”

Burke said his panel will likely present a proposal to the Faculty Council in January. He added that — if the faculty ultimately approve an early registration proposal — it will roll out two years from now at the earliest.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @saviyonah

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