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Claybaugh Discusses 'Serious' Shopping Week Problems with Undergrad Council

UC first meeting Smith Center
The Undergraduate Council meets in the Smith Campus Center.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh said faculty and administrators are still gathering information and input about potentially ending the College's semesterly "shopping week" at an Undergraduate Council meeting Monday — and cited several problems that the tradition causes for professors, graduate students, and undergraduates.

The final decision to retain or eliminate shopping week — a Harvard quirk that allows students to sample classes for a week before officially registering — would likely occur with a broader overhaul of the course enrollment process, she said.

Eliminating shopping week would ultimately require a vote of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and that vote will not happen until FAS conducts further research on possible alternatives, Claybaugh said. The Faculty Council — FAS's highest governing body — voted to approve the creation of a committee to study preregistation at its biweekly meeting Sept. 28.

“If this were purely a question about shopping period, I would not try to change it, because I think that opinion in our community is too divided, and I think the value of tradition is very strong,” Claybaugh said. “But the relevant debate for us is ‘are the benefits of shopping period — whatever those benefits are — are they worth the costs?”

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The remarks from Claybaugh, assumed the deanship over the summer, come several months after the Faculty of Arts and Sciences debatedthe merits of shopping week at its monthly meeting last March. On Monday, Claybaugh echoed many of the concerns faculty members expressed during that meeting, including the inability of faculty to adequately plan ahead for their courses amid fluctuating enrollment numbers.

In an interview on Thursday, UC President Catherine L. Zhang ’19 and Vice President Nicholas D. Boucher ’19 said they are concerned with what they have perceived to be a lack of student input in proposed changes to course enrollment.

“I don’t think that the student body has accurately been polled or involved in this conversation up until this point,” Boucher said. “We want to make sure that that representation does happen.”

“Granted,” he added, “it’s still very early.”

Claybaugh also cited the uncertainty that shopping period creates for graduate students looking for teaching jobs. During the first few weeks of each semester, instructors often have to add or eliminate course sections based on the changing number of enrollees.

As a result of late hirings, Claybaugh said, 35 percent of teaching fellows received their first paycheck of last year’s fall semester at least a month late.

“It leads to incredible disruptions in their lives,” Claybaugh said. “They find it unbelievably stressful to go from class to class and try to figure out whether any of them will have an employment opportunity.”

“Our graduate students are very much a part of our community and so a policy that is so damaging to them is a serious problem for all of us,” she added.

In addition, Claybaugh said that although shopping period appears to “enable” student choices, it actually “limits” choices as well, by vastly increasing the number of lotteried classes.

She also noted that because shopping week pushes the undergraduate enrollment date later than most other universities, cheaper — oftentimes used — textbooks, are sometimes no longer available for Harvard undergraduates to purchase.

Multiple UC representatives, however, argued during Monday’s meeting that the drawbacks of shopping week Claybaugh cited havebeen overstated, telling Claybaugh they still harbored concerns about the proposed changes.

“I’ve had TFs who have told me ‘this is not my area of expertise’ and they’ve actually still done a really good job," said Victoria M. Marquez ’20, a Pforzheimer House representative, referring to graduate teaching fellows. “I’ve found that even though they come in unprepared, they’ve been very quick to adapt.”

At Monday’s meeting, the UC also passed legislation to host a town hall on October 16 about shopping week with Claybaugh, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, and FAS Registrar Michael P. Burke. In addition, the Council’s Education Committee has an ongoing survey to students asking their opinions on proposed changes to shopping week.

Boucher said after the meeting that, although he was “optimistic” about Claybaugh’s efforts to gather student input, he said the administration must ensure that the faculty — the ultimate arbiters on the issue — will take students’ opinions into account, proposing that UC leaders directly present the survey results to the faculty.

“If we would still be in office when the vote takes place, I would push for one of us to speak at the faculty committee and give a report on this data that we’re collecting from the student body,” he said.

In an emailed statement before the meeting, Claybaugh wrote she encouraged students to email her directly to convey their feelings about shopping week.

“We want to hear from as many people as possible, from as many different groups (undergrads, but also grad students, faculty, and staff) as we think through this potential change,” Claybaugh wrote .

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at jonah.berger@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

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