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Harvard Faculty Extend Pass-Fail Deadline, Reject Earlier Deadline for Adding Classes

Before Covid-19, faculty meetings were held in-person at University Hall. Harvard faculty narrowly rejected a contentious proposal to shift up the deadline for adding classes to the third Monday of the term.
Before Covid-19, faculty meetings were held in-person at University Hall. Harvard faculty narrowly rejected a contentious proposal to shift up the deadline for adding classes to the third Monday of the term. By Sharleen Y. Loh
By Tilly R. Robinson, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard faculty narrowly rejected a contentious proposal to shift up the deadline for adding classes to the third Monday of the term, while overwhelmingly approving a proposal allowing undergraduates to switch to pass-fail grading through the eleventh Monday.

The vote — at a Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting Tuesday — was a rare rebuke of FAS leadership and the 19-member Faculty Council, which unanimously approved both proposals in previous meetings.

Currently, students may enroll in new classes with instructor permission or choose to take a course pass-fail through the fifth Monday of the semester. After that deadline, students must receive Harvard College Administrative Board approval to add courses.

Eighty-five percent of faculty who voted approved the pass-fail deadline, which will take effect in fall 2024. Only 43 percent voted for the earlier add deadline, with 57 percent opposed.

The two proposals were first presented by Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh at a faculty meeting last month.

After it was unveiled, the proposal to move the add deadline forward drew criticism from some students, who said it was another burdensome restriction on top of the FAS’ controversial switch to previous-term course registration.

Last week, the Harvard Undergraduate Association circulated a petition against the change, arguing that the “faculty should be focused on making the course registration experience less restrictive, not more.”

Claybaugh said the extended pass-fail deadline would “give students more flexibility and agency in managing their courseload.”

However, she said the earlier add deadline — which she said she discussed with HUA representatives in the fall — would lend clarity to course enrollment policies. She added that switching classes late in the semester should be an exception, not a norm.

Under the current policy, Claybaugh said, some students drop courses expecting to add others, but find themselves “stranded” when instructors decline their requests to enroll.

“Our rules tell them they have the ability to do that,” she said. “In practice, they find that very few course heads will give them permission.”

But the earlier add deadline received especially strong opposition from members of Harvard’s Math Department, some of whom spoke out against the proposal at last month’s FAS meeting.

Claybaugh said she was receptive to concerns that the proposal might prevent students from switching between introductory courses of different levels — particularly in Math, Economics, Physics, and languages.

But Claybaugh’s proposed solution — implementing a “batch approval” procedure for students seeking Ad Board permission to switch between similar courses in the same department — did little to mollify opponents of the earlier deadline.

Math professor Melanie Matchett Wood said requiring Ad Board approval would add bureaucratic barriers for students attempting to switch courses, particularly those less informed about registration policies.

Clifford H. Taubes, the director of undergraduate studies for the Math Department, said the earlier deadline might discourage students from exploring classes. To increase clarity around enrollment, he said, course heads who want to impose earlier deadlines for joining their courses could say so in the course catalog.

As the comment period drew to a close, Claybaugh characterized Harvard’s late add deadline as a symptom of an underlying problem: students not being sorted into the courses that fit them best.

She noted that Harvard has a later add-drop deadline than nearly all other peer institutions and sees high numbers of students switching courses well into the semester.

“We have relied on late add to solve problems about imperfect placement,” Claybaugh said. Instead, she argued, the FAS should “find a way to place them appropriately right off the bat.”

In an email following the meeting, Claybaugh wrote that she found the discussion “really productive.”

“We were all thinking together about what’s best for our students — and that’s what faculty governance should be about,” she wrote.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

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