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Faculty Shopping Week Committee Stakes Out Its Case, Encourages Student Input

President Lawrence S. Bacow chairs the meetings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences held each month in University Hall.
President Lawrence S. Bacow chairs the meetings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences held each month in University Hall. By Amy Y. Li
By Jonah S. Berger and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

Forty-four percent of Faculty of Arts and Sciences courses with teaching fellows last year had to add or drop discussion sections based on unexpected enrollment numbers, according to a website launched Friday by a faculty committee tasked with proposing potential changes to “shopping week.”

The website details several arguments against the current course registration system, including the issue of predicting teaching fellow hires in advance. Though administrators have stated that student input will play an “important role” in their recommendations, the website does not prominently feature any arguments in favor of retaining “shopping week” — a College scheduling quirk at the beginning of each semester when undergraduates can preview classes before formally enrolling.

Student leaders have so far stood in firm opposition to major changes to the registration system.

In a section of the website titled “Impacts,” the committee — which will likely issue its formal report next month — presents four reasons it believes shopping week is harmful to students, faculty members, and teaching fellows.

The website cites fluctuating enrollment numbers as a source of job insecurity for teaching fellows. Roughly 30 percent of teaching fellows and teaching assistants received assignments after the conclusion of shopping week, according to the website.

The committee also argues that the uncertainty prompted by shopping week has led to difficulty providing adequate resources to students who require accessible facilities and course materials. In spring 2018, instructors saw 23 requests for accessible materials, up from 18 during each of the three previous semesters, according to the website.

The committee also states that delays in enrollment verification complicate the application process for loan deferments, fellowships, and scholarships.

Most undergraduates do not enroll in classes until the second week of the term, likely in large part due to shopping period, according to data from the Registrar’s Office.

Philosophy Professor Bernhard Nickel, who chairs the committee, said he and the other members — including FAS Registrar Michael P. Burke — decided to launch the website to be as “transparent as we can” about the committee’s work.

Nickel acknowledged in a Friday interview that the website does not yet fully reflect students’ input. But he pointed to a section titled “News” where users can read previous emails the committee has sent to students, including one on Nov. 9 outlining multiple arguments from students in favor of retaining shopping week.

In an email to undergraduates Friday morning, Nickel encouraged students to continue to offer feedback to the committee through the website.

“I cannot emphasize enough the important role that student feedback has played, and will continue to play throughout this process,” Nickel wrote.

While it remains unclear to what extent student input will impact the committee’s final recommendations, Undergraduate Council leaders are intent on making the student body’s opinion a public matter. In late November, the Council released a 13-page report summarizing the results of a survey about shopping week that received approximately 1,900 responses.

A majority of respondents reported that shopping week not only positively impacted their College experience overall, but specifically influenced their class and concentration decisions.

The UC also recently formed a “working group” comprising roughly 20 undergraduates devoted to “influencing” the committee’s final decision on shopping week, according to Council President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20.

Earlier this month, the UC voted overwhelmingly in favor of releasing a statement calling for the preservation of shopping week, which came after a Council presidential campaign in which all three tickets sought to position themselves as the best equipped to work with administrators on the issue.

The faculty committee will present its proposal to the Faculty Council — FAS’s highest governing body — in spring 2019. The Council will then spend two months reviewing the legislation before deciding whether to advance it to a full Faculty vote. If the Faculty approves the proposal, it will take a minimum of two years to implement the change, per the website.

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

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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