Shopping period fiascos are fixable

One week in, shopping period seems more than ever to be an imperfectible beast. And still, admirably, we try.

The University’s task every year seems to be to balance student convenience against faculty annoyance and from there, to divine a shopping period formula that reasonably balances the two. Every fall, this is done to varying and limited degrees of success. This fall, the administration’s efforts have ranged from the counterintuitive to the negligible to those just plain baffling in their complexity and ineffectiveness.

It is not difficult to see why the first few weeks of every semester are frustrating for professors and teaching assistants. To fix that, it seems the University has turned to technology, and we believe that instinct is a good one: the online registration site has tremendous potential to simplify the shopping process for everyone involved. Unfortunately, the changes made this year take little advantage of those possibilities.

We continue to wonder why the administration, the registrar’s office, and individual department heads have not made certain seemingly simple and obvious changes to improve what is admittedly a generous option and a hectic time. Anything that helps students trim their lists of classes before the school year starts would making shopping easier for faculty as well as for the students themselves. To that end, it would be a significant improvement if the University were able to send out blue books and post the course offerings online sooner, so restless interns looking to procrastinate at work could hone their shopping lists throughout the summer. If more professors put their syllabi online earlier as well, it would help ease the process even more, cutting down especially on the number of students who infuriate faculty members by wandering in and out of lectures during the first week of school.

Making the new online course evaluations accessible to class-shoppers is a great idea that would be even greater if the evaluations available were more substantive and if they were linked to the online course listings before classes began, not after. The registrar has said his office delayed the launch of the course evaluation links in order to deal first with the History Department’s semi-disastrous trial section preregistration.

As for the section preregistration effort itself, why the prompt comes when a student puts a class on his worksheet, and not when he formalizes his schedule online, is beyond our comprehension. Never has a shopping period bottleneck — in which sections filled in a matter of hours blocking countless students out of classes — been so predictable. In evaluating this program, we hope the History Department and any seeking to emulate it will consider using the online worksheets only as a way to gauge interest. If scheduling sections is a concern, perhaps a prompt asking students to list three good section times when they place a class on their worksheet would be of use.

Nevertheless, Yale’s commitment to allowing students to shop classes is a noble one, especially as some of its peer institutions — Harvard, for example — are starting to favor preregistration over penalty-free browsing. Shopping period is a wonderful thing for undergraduates. By reconsidering some of this year’s new policies, the faculty and administration could make it much closer to a wonderful thing for themselves as well.

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