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In Favor of Harvard's 'Bureaucratic Headache'

At a recent monthly faculty meeting, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences discussed a proposal to eliminate “shopping week” and establish a pre-registration system in its place. Many professors expressed concern that “shopping week”—the present course-registration system where students have one week to “shop” and explore courses before making enrollment choices—creates an uncertainty over the size of the class until the very end of the first week of semester. This uncertainty, several professors have said, negatively affects not only professors but also their teaching fellows and their departmental staff. While we understand their point of view, we strongly believe that shopping week is an indispensable opportunity for students to explore their interests.

Unaware of how large their classes will be, professors understandably find it difficult to completely plan their courses. They cannot decide on the number of teaching fellows, who face uncertainty over their schedules. For administrators too, shopping week is troublesome. Stephanie Kenen, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Administrative Director of the Program in General Education, has described it as a “bureaucratic headache.”

We recognize these problems shopping week poses to course staff and administrators. However, given how positively shopping week contributes to the student experience at Harvard, we maintain that eliminating it is a bad idea. We strongly support the current form of shopping week and are opposed to any plan or proposal to eliminate it in favor of a pre-registration system.

Shopping week enhances the effectiveness of the liberal arts system of education to which the College is committed. Thanks to a week of exploration of courses, students have the opportunity to consider classes and concentrations they would not have otherwise thought about pursuing. Furthermore, students can have a real experience with a class and its teaching staff before actually enrolling, giving them a chance to think whether a particular class will be a good fit for them. Perusing the syllabus and student evaluations of a course will surely give students information about it, but cannot supplant the experience of sitting in a classroom.

Shopping week also provides Harvard a tangible benefit in student experience over its peer institutions, many of which share the orthodox pre-registration system. In a pre-registration system, students are expected to roughly finalize their courses before the semester even starts. In contrast, with a shopping week like Harvard’s, students can start the semester with virtually no idea about what courses they will end up taking. This allows students to truly experience the richness of Harvard’s academic offerings.

That being said, we also believe that the administration should find ways to address faculty concerns surrounding shopping week without its elimination. We are especially worried about the challenges faced by teaching fellows. We implore the University to act to making their teaching experiences as stress-free and organized as possible.

Finally, we urge our fellow students to take shopping week seriously, which will not only help professors give their courses a robust start, but also prevent students from falling behind in their courses. We are lucky to have such a unique, flexible system. It is up to us to make the most of it.

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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