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Harvard Faculty Vote to Eliminate Shopping Week in Favor of Previous-Term Course Registration System

Prior to Covid-19, faculty meetings were held in University Hall, located in Harvard Yard.
Prior to Covid-19, faculty meetings were held in University Hall, located in Harvard Yard. By Aiyana G. White
By Ariel H. Kim and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: May 4, 2022 at 4:17 p.m.

Harvard faculty voted to eliminate shopping week in favor of a previous-term course registration system on Tuesday, ending a decades-old scheduling quirk that allowed students to sample courses before enrolling during the first week of each semester.

More than 60 percent of faculty voted in favor of the previous-term registration system, which will require students to register for classes at the end of the previous semester, starting for Spring 2024. The vote comes despite organizing efforts from students and some high-profile professors who lobbied faculty to keep shopping week.

With the passage of the proposal on Tuesday, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences formed a committee of faculty, students, and administrators who will be tasked with crafting an implementation plan for the new system.

Under the newly-adopted system, students will be able to add or drop courses without instructor approval during the first week of the semester. Instructors will be required to prepare course material earlier.

In addition, student advising timelines will adjust to the new course registration schedule. The legislation also calls for “technological enhancements” to make Harvard’s course registration process smoother.

Faculty debated the new system for about one hour prior to the vote at Tuesday’s faculty meeting.

Bernhard Nickel, professor of Philosophy who chairs the FAS’ Committee on Course Registration, said prior to the vote on Tuesday that “nothing short of previous-term registration” will better allow undergraduates to explore their course options while providing them with “robust” advising.

“The case for previous-term registration is an educational case, first and foremost,” he said. “It is not an administrative case.”

Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, professor of Fine Arts, questioned when faculty would have the time to conduct research for their courses, since previous-term registration requires faculty to post syllabi and course material earlier than what is currently required.

In response, Nickel said the previous-term registration system would require course materials in March for the fall and October or November for the spring, which avoids the difficulties of planning courses over breaks.

Earlier this semester, a group of undergraduates calling for faculty to preserve shopping week submitted a counterproposal in response to the Committee on Course Registration recommending a move to the previous-term system.

Some faculty say the shopping week system creates instability for teaching staff because enrollment numbers remain unknown until the second week of the semester. Susanna C. Siegel, a professor of Philosophy, said the counterproposal treats teaching fellows as if they were “fungible items” that could be distributed over classes.

Undergraduates who support shopping week criticized the vote.

William A. Mcconnell ’22 wrote in an email that the adoption of previous-term registration demonstrates the need for greater student representation in school decisions.

“Not the end of the world, but I think it’s a real loss for Harvard,” he wrote. “I predict lower average Q scores, fewer humanities concentrators, and a more pre-professional campus climate. This mistake highlights the need for students to have a bigger seat at the table for campus decision-making.”

Michael Y. Cheng ’22, the former president of the Undergraduate Council who led the effort to dissolve the body last month in favor of a new student government, wrote in an email that the new system is “a historic mistake.”

“Education should not be about technocratic pre-planning, but rather genuine learning,” he wrote.

LyLena D. Estabine ’24, one of the newly-elected co-presidents of the Harvard Undergraduate Association, wrote in an email that she respects the vote, but will continue to advocate for undergraduates to be included in determining how the new system will be implemented.

“I cannot stress enough that the work is not done just because pre-registration passed,” she wrote.

The Faculty Council — a 19-person committee that makes recommendations on FAS legislation — will review the previous-term registration system five years in and develop a report for the faculty.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at meimei.xu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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