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Editorials

FAS Changes Won’t Fix Prior Term Registration

By Emily N. Dial
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

We have learned to dread Faculty of Arts and Sciences discussions of course enrollment — and for good reason.

Last semester’s implementation of the disastrous previous-term course registration burdened students already overwhelmed with classwork.

The decision came following a faculty vote to abolish shopping week, one of the only opportunities for students to test wide-ranging classes before committing themselves to their final schedule.

Thankfully, the current proposal on the docket, which the FAS discussed last Tuesday, seems less significant compared to last semester’s seismic shocks. It suggests two minor adjustments to the add-drop timeline: First, to advance the deadline to enroll in courses to the second Monday of the semester and the third Monday of the semester with instructor permission; and second, to permit students to switch their course grading option to pass-fail until the eleventh Monday of the semester, an extension from the current fifth Monday deadline.

We find the latter amendment particularly beneficial. An extended pass-fail deadline affords students extra flexibility to take risks and select classes outside their comfort zones, promoting intellectual exploration for those worried about taking classes in subject areas they find difficult.

In addition, the change helps align our grading policy with those of peer institutions, like Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania, where the deadlines to switch to pass-fail grading are late in the semester. Plus, it’s a step in the direction of a universal pass-fail model — a vastly more productive metric than the traditional letter grading system.

The petition indicates that the FAS is merely trimming its sails, not changing tack. The Administrative Board already accepts most petitions for late grading basis changes anyway, lending flexibility in the existing framework to students with compelling reasons to switch how they are evaluated.

While the FAS’s other main change — the acceleration of the add-drop period — may add a tiny time crunch to some students (especially those exploring cross-registration options at MIT) the new timeline, in isolation, adds only the tiniest of burdens.

Our issues lie not with this specific recent proposal but rather the recent wave of administrative overreach that constrains students’ ability to make informed choices during course selection.

The proposed revisions pale in comparison to the onerous prior term registration, which asks students to develop a plan for their entire next semester — all while dealing with an onslaught of projects, papers, and problem sets. The new deadlines are maximally inconvenient — smack dab in the middle of midterms — when time to examine course catalogs is scarce, information about performance in ongoing classes is incomplete, and current courses’ influence on student intellectual interests have yet to take foot.

As a result, students have inadequate time to carefully and thoughtfully select classes, thereby relying even more on the brief add-drop period at the beginning of term. Now, with that timeline suddenly squashed, students must scramble to solidify their schedules.

Indeed, the new changes undermine an original goal of previous-term registration: alleviating the uncertainty that comes with fluctuating class sizes. If students consistently miscalculate their initial course selections, all schedule changes will now get squeezed into one three-week period, expediting — rather than preventing — the schedule changes the new policies aimed to curb.

Flexible course selection infrastructure is critical to broadening student perspectives and creative inquiry. We once again implore the FAS to consider the cumulative effects their decisions have wrought on students’ quality of life and to rethink their stultifying course enrollment policies.

Until we see a major policy shift, we will meet each FAS announcement with apprehension, instead of anticipation. Axing shopping week in favor of prior term course registration struck a heavy blow to the course selection process; squabbling over add-drop deadlines won’t fix a thing.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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