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Faculty, Students Discuss Possible Elimination of Shopping Week

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris.
Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris. By Megan M. Ross
By Jonah S. Berger and Simone C. Chu, Crimson Staff Writers

Over two dozen faculty, administrators, and students gathered in Leverett Library Theater Friday afternoon to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of proposed changes to undergraduate course enrollment in an off-the-record meeting.

The discussion came over a month after the Faculty of Arts and Sciences debated the merits of replacing “shopping week” for undergraduate with a pre-registration system at the March Faculty meeting

Currently, College students register for classes after “shopping week,” a one-week period at the beginning of the semester when students can walk in and out of classes before officially enrolling.

Around ten faculty members attended the meeting. Administrators—including FAS Registrar Michael P. Burke and Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris—were also present.

“We are committed to improving the academic experiences of our students,” Harris wrote in an emailed statement after the meeting. “We are seeking a reform of our current course selection process that will retain all or most of its advantages, while decreasing, ideally eliminating, its many disadvantages.”

“We are convinced that can be done,” Harris added.

Iris R. Feldman ’20 said shopping week has provided her an opportunity to explore classes outside of her comfort zone.

“I feel like it’s an amazing time to have an intellectual exploration that I feel like I wouldn’t be able to have otherwise,” she said.

Feldman added that if not for shopping week, her college career could have been different.

“I changed my concentration last month because of a class that I took during shopping period,” she said. “And I don’t think that would happen if we didn’t have this.”

Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Lecturer William J. Anderson said he supports switching to a pre-registration system, saying he views the issue “from the undergraduate educational perspective.”

Because enrollment numbers are not solidified until after shopping week, the number of teaching fellows for a class is often in flux.

“Especially in science classes, we really want to have students be able to take part in really cutting-edge research and you really need people who are well-trained to be able to supervise those labs,” Anderson said. “If we have to hire and screen people at the last leads to unnecessary restrictions in the numbers of students that can take the course.”

Anderson said he had compiled past enrollment data and found that teaching fellows who were hired late due to higher-than-expected enrollment figures fared significantly worse on the Q Guide—the College’s course rating website—than teaching fellows who were given earlier notice.

Social Studies Director of Undergraduate Studies Anya Bernstein Bassett said for some faculty members, the sight of students walking out during the middle of lecture to shop another class can be “stressful.”

"The fact that it’s the norm, that that’s okay, I think that sets up a relationship that then carries through,” Bassett said.

“It creates a dynamic where it’s okay to walk out on a class,” she said in an interview after the event. “And I think it makes the class, in the students’ minds, more disposable.”

Sruthi Palaniappan ’20, chair of the Undergraduate Council’s Education Committee, said she was glad that the mixture of students, faculty, and administrators were able to meet and discuss the subject together.

“I hope everyone in the room was able to witness the complexity of this topic,” Palaniappan said. “It’s easy to get into our own minds and just think about it in terms of how this discussion impacts us.”

Harris wrote that potential changes to shopping week are still under consideration.

“We will continue to seek input from all those with a stake in this process—undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty—throughout the coming fall, and beyond, if necessary,” Harris wrote.

Palaniappan said she hopes student feedback “is taken into great consideration,” and that discussions are not held simply for the sake of having a discussion.

“I would definitely encourage more students to get involved in this conversation when we all get back on campus in the fall,” she added.

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

—Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.

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