Students Struggle with My.Harvard Outages As College Debuts New Gen-Ed Program on First Day

Walking to Class
As the sun sat low in the sky, a student walked to shop a class in Littauer Hall Tuesday evening.

As College students scrambled to set their shopping week schedules, some faced an additional hurdle: an extended outage on Harvard’s online course catalog Monday night.

My.Harvard — the website that houses Harvard’s course registration system and a list of class offerings — was inaccessible to some users the night and early morning prior to the first day of courses. Multiple students said the technical issues made it difficult to make last-minute decisions on which courses to try out.

Gabrielle A. Donaldson ’23 said she stayed up late into the night trying to access the site, since she had yet to select her courses.

“Hopefully, if they can avoid [outages] in the future, that'd be great. Especially for the students that have procrastination issues,” she said.


Tim Bailey, a spokesperson for Harvard University Information Technology, wrote in an emailed statement that HUIT staff are sympathetic to student dissatisfaction.

“We understand the frustration this is causing and apologize for the inconvenience at such a critical time of the year,” he wrote. “There is a large HUIT team working around-the-clock to resolve technical issues with the my.harvard system.”

“We have significantly expanded server capacity to meet increased activity over the next week,” he added. “Contingency plans are in place in the event of further system disruption.”

This year’s first day of classes also marked the official roll-out of the new General Education program — the “cornerstone of the Harvard College curriculum” according to its website. Several of this semester’s General Education courses are revamped versions of previous course offerings.

The overhauled General Education program, which includes new requirements, arose after a faculty committee tasked with reviewing the program in 2015 found it was “failing on a variety of fronts.” Administrators announced last year they were delaying the rollout of the new program until fall 2019 — a year later than originally planned — to give faculty members more time to develop courses.

First Day of Shopping Week
Harvard Extension School class Physics I: Mechanics, Elasticity, Fluids, and Diffusion taught by Anna M. Klales meets in Science Center Hall B Tuesday, the first day of shopping week.

General Education courses are interdisciplinary and “unusually explicit” in their connection to the “world outside the classroom,” according to the site.

Several students said they are excited about GENED 1076 002: “Equity and Excellence in K12 American Schools” — which was rebranded from its former title, United States and the World 35.

Lincoln F. Sorscher ’21 said that the lottery for the capped course — which garnered interest from hundreds of students — made him uneasy.

“I don't like my odds,” he said. “But I thought it was a really dope class. I was really excited about it.”

Hannah R. Alton ’22, who shopped GENED 1116: “Medical Ethics and History,” said she believes General Education courses offer opportunities to explore different fields.

“I think Gen-Eds are a good way to explore academic areas that you haven’t had a chance to look at in too much depth and potentially explore future careers,” she said. “That’s the one downside to Gen-Eds — there’s kind of a lot of people. Usually during shopping week, it’s super packed.”

Several non-General Education programs proved to be just as popular. An introductory course in American Sign Language — which was reintroduced after two decades in 2017, and approved in fall 2018 as a means by which to fulfill the language requirement — also drew a sizable crowd.

Arielle S. Rothman ’21 said in an email that the room was so full that she had to sit outside.

“I think it would be best if you found someone who actually got to see the professor, which is especially relevant for this class because it is ASL,” she wrote.

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.