Faculty Council Debates Proposal to Kill Shopping Week


Many students’ worst scheduling fear is one step closer to reality after Wednesday’s Faculty Council meeting.

The Council — the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ highest governing body — spent much of that meeting debating a proposal to end “shopping week,” the week-long period at the start of each semester during which students can wander freely in and out of classrooms before officially selecting and enrolling in their courses.

The new proposal, introduced by Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh, would cancel shopping week and replace it with a preregistration system in the fall of 2020. Under Claybaugh's plan, students would enroll in courses prior to the start of the semester. They would then have a designated period of time to add or drop courses if they wished.

But it's far from implementation. The Council will likely vote on Claybaugh's proposal at its next meeting, according to Faculty Council member David L. Howell. The plan will then be presented to the full Faculty at their monthly meeting in October along with the results of the Council’s vote, which is purely advisory. The Faculty will, at the earliest, be able to vote on the proposal in November.


Wednesday's discussion follows a Faculty meeting last spring at which professors discussed ways they could reform the current course registration system.

Shopping week is beloved to many Harvard students, who praise the flexibility of the system. But professors and graduate teaching fellows hold a less rose-colored view of the seven days of student indecision. They say the current system leaves them in limbo for an extended period of time, making it difficult to prepare properly for the semester.

Claybaugh’s proposal marks the first official effort by administrators to alter the course registration system since the spring discussions. Though Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana introduced the subject at the March meeting, no one put forward an official proposal at the time.

During the March meeting, multiple professors spoke in favor of an preregistration system. Howell said in an interview Wednesday that preregistration would allow graduate students and professors to better plan their courses — and lives.

"Because of the way shopping period works, you don't have enrollments in courses until after study card day, so some TFs [teaching fellows] are left in the air not knowing if they would teach in a particular class or how many sections they'll teach," Howell said. "Pre-registration would relieve a lot of that stress on our graduate students."

The Council also heard Wednesday from former Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris, who introduced a proposal to alter the wording of the foreign language requirement. The basics of the language requirement — fulfilled either by a year of foreign language classes or by satisfactory placement test scores — would remain essentially the same.

Currently, the Harvard College Student Handbook stipulates that students must meet the foreign language requirement in “a language with a written component that is taught at Harvard or for which an appropriate examination with a written component can be given.” The new wording suggested by the proposal would deemphasize the writing component and allow languages such as Ancient Greek or American Sign Language to satisfy the requirements, according to Howell.

Ever since Harvard began offering American Sign Language two years ago, advocates have argued it should fulfill the language requirement. The Council will likely vote on that proposal at its next meeting.

The suggestion to end shopping week comes just weeks after administrators officially ended "Harvard Time," another College quirk adored by many students that allowed undergraduates to arrive to every class seven minutes late. 

—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at


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