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The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is considering a proposal to move up the deadline to add a course and to push the deadline to change a course’s grading basis to pass-fail. While the impact of these changes may pale in comparison to the introduction of previous-term registration, they will have far reaching consequences.
It seems that, once again, administrators are putting themselves first. Undergraduates should be alarmed by the FAS’s latest plans to take away even more flexibility from students.
The imposition of previous-term registration has made course registration far worse for students, adding stress during a busy part of the semester with no clear benefit. Students, while still experiencing the impacts of prior-term registration for the first time, should not allow administrators to slip two changes — fundamentally affecting our course selection — past us.
This isn’t the first time the FAS has made drastic changes during tumultuous times: They axed shopping week right after temporary changes implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic rocked institutional memory. It is vital that the aftershocks of prior-term registration not prevent us from seeing the FAS’s latest plans for what they are.
Moving up the deadline to add a course to the third Monday of the semester, as the proposal recommends, would have serious negative consequences for students.
The FAS plans to continue to allow students to drop a course up to the current fifth Monday deadline — but presumably, a student dropping a class on the fifth Monday will want to add a class to take its place. Hence, the FAS’s plan would de facto prohibit dropping courses after the third Monday or require that students add additional courses earlier in the semester — and, critically, complete the work for them — with the intention of dropping some later.
Either outcome unfairly burdens students, putting more stress on us to choose courses quickly and making it harder to choose the classes that fit us best. It also severely shortens the add-drop window for students cross-registering for courses at MIT — an opportunity many students use to take courses not available at Harvard — where classes often start one to two weeks later.
The proposed change not only gives students less time to select and change their classes, but shifts the ability to exercise any circumstantial discretion from instructors to the Administrative Board. After three weeks, the proposal would force students to petition the Administrative Board to join a class.
This disrespects our teachers, who are best equipped to determine whether it is appropriate to add a course later in the semester. Ostensibly, the FAS wants to preclude students from adding courses unreasonably late during the term, but the thoughtful judgment of professors — who best understand their course content and whether students can catch up — should protect against this.
While FAS administrators seem to think their one-size-fits-all approach is better, I urge professors to have confidence that their judgment is better than a sweeping FAS policy. In my experience professors give substantial thought — at times on a case-by-case basis — to whether to allow students to join a course past a certain point. The FAS denying our professors this discretion is wrong.
The FAS, to its credit, did have one strong proposal.
Giving students more time — until the eleventh Monday of the semester — to decide if they want to take a course for a letter grade or on a pass-fail basis would be a huge improvement to current FAS policy. This additional flexibility would encourage intellectual exploration and academic risk-taking, enabling students to enroll in a broader range of courses than they might otherwise.
Peer institutions, such as Yale, have implemented similar policies, and it would be a shame for such a groundbreaking change to not come to fruition at Harvard. I hope the FAS has the courage to follow through with this critical proposal that would bring boundless intellectual curiosity to Harvard’s campus.
I urge students not to let these proposed changes go unnoticed — and to consider carefully how each limits and expands their agency in selecting courses.
Ian M. Moore ’26, a Crimson Editorial editor, is an Applied Mathematics concentrator in Quincy House.
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