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Faculty Council Approves Proposal to Retain Shopping Week

Professors enter University Hall to attend a meeting of the Faculty Council on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in Sept. 2018.
Professors enter University Hall to attend a meeting of the Faculty Council on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in Sept. 2018. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Jonah S. Berger and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

The Faculty Council voted to endorse a proposal to retain “shopping week” until at least 2022 at its biweekly meeting Wednesday.

The Council — the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’s highest governing body — first heard the proposal at its previous meeting, alongside the final report of an ad hoc committee tasked with recommending changes to shopping week, a Harvard scheduling quirk in which students can sample classes during the first week of the semester before enrolling.

The committee publicly released its report Wednesday on its website, outlining what they viewed as key benefits of the current system as well as changes that could eliminate the drawbacks of that system.

In the report, committee members wrote that the largest problem posed by the current system is “uncertainty around course enrollments.” They recommended using “sophisticated algorithms” to try to predict course registration, using enrollment data from past years.

“We recommend that these algorithms be created and deployed as soon as possible,” the report reads.

The report also suggests that a new, more permanent committee be formed to consider course registration more broadly.

Committee Chair Bernhard Nickel and Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh said in an interview Monday that, though their committee was originally formed to consider whether to scrap shopping week altogether, members later concluded that the problems that faculty and students face with course registration do not stem from shopping week alone.

Faculty and graduate students had previously criticized shopping week for creating job insecurity for teaching fellows and preventing professors from beginning instruction during the first week of classes.

“What this committee has found… is that it is not a binary question,” Claybaugh said. “There's not a simple yes, no.”

The final report details several issues unrelated to shopping week that plague the current registration system, like the uncoordinated timing of course lotteries.

Claybaugh and Nickel cited the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences' upcoming move to Allston, this year's new class schedule, and ongoing graduate student union negotiations as potential sources of uncertainty for professors and reasons the committee decided to keep shopping week in its current form until at least 2022.

Claybaugh said the committee’s work over the next three years would “happen in the background” and that rather than impose a large-scale “disruption” to the current system, they would instead try smaller interventions before making major changes.

“At the end of three years, the committee will say, either, we think that we have brought variability within manageable limits,” she said. “Or they will say things are not fine, in which case, we will think about some kind of pre-term planning or some kind of something.”

Claybaugh said the committee views the issues associated with shopping week — such as graduate students not receiving paychecks until weeks after the semester begins — as pressing.

“I think there is an urgency,” she said.

The Council voted to form the course registration committee in September 2018, after informal debate over the merits and drawbacks of shopping week arose at an earlier meeting of the full faculty.

Undergraduate Council President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20 — who serves on the Education Policy Committee which helped formulate the proposal — praised the administration’s receptiveness to students’ input throughout the process. More than 400 students voiced their opinions on shopping week through multiple town halls and an online forum, according to Claybaugh.

“For me personally and those that I’ve worked with on the UC, we’re very pleased with the legislation,” Palaniappan said. “It’s really heartening to see students’ activism turn into positive policy outcomes from our perspective.”

Faculty Council member David L. Howell said in an interview Wednesday that the group approved the proposal with little debate. The Faculty Council’s vote is purely advisory, however; the full faculty will consider the legislation at its meeting next week and then decide on its ultimate fate in a May vote.

The Council also voted to approve two other proposals at its meeting Wednesday, according to Howell — one to create a masters of science and masters of business administration dual degree program and another to implement a new “quantitative reasoning with data” requirement for undergraduates.

The dual degree program, run by Harvard Business School, would focus on providing a life sciences curriculum to Business School students interested in working in fields like pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Under the quantitative reasoning proposal, students could use courses that involve working with data across different disciplines to fulfill the requirement.

— 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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