Faculty meeting tackles shopping uncertainty

Photo by Lorenzo Ligato.

After enduring another shopping period riddled with uncertainty due to fluctuating course enrollments, faculty members debated ways to make the first weeks of the semester less volatile.

At the first Yale College faculty meeting of the academic year on Thursday, roughly a dozen professors voiced their frustrations about shopping period and discussed ways enrollment decisions could be made sooner, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said. Professors were responding to a report produced by the Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee, which found that the uncertainty associated with shopping period hurts both students and faculty. Semi-annual reports by the Executive Committee and the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct were also presented at the meeting, but discussion focused on issues surrounding shopping period, which took up 45 minutes of debate, Miller said.

“The shopping period interacts with serious resource-management issues such as allocating slots in limited-enrollment courses, allocating classrooms, assigning graduate TAs to courses, and even letting graduate students know whether or not they will have a job after the shopping period is over,” computer science professor Michael Fischer, who attended the meeting, said in an email to the News.

Professors present said they would like to see improvements in the technological capability of the Registrar’s Office, so that they could have constantly updated data on enrollment during shopping period and better gauge which classes students intend to take, Miller said. They also spoke about procedures departments could adopt for determining admission to limited-enrollment classes — citing departments such as English that have precise enrollment rules for seminars — and the benefit of requiring students to accept or decline seminar spots early in shopping period, she said.

But faculty present deferred any decision on shopping period for now, asking the Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee to develop a more specific course of action and explore new technology the Registrar’s Office could use.

Five professors who were not at the meeting said they have had to devise their own strategies to deal with the uncertainty of shopping period. English professor Leslie Brisman, who teaches “The Bible as Literature” and “Romantic Poetry” this semester, said he generally assigns a brief essay for students due by his second class session so that interested students commit to his courses from the start.

Though 11 students interviewed said they believe shopping period is useful for understanding the nature of potential classes, they said the course selection process is often stressful because students juggle more courses than usual.

Erik Aldana ’14 said shopping period might be too brief, noting that he had only one opportunity to shop a class that meets on Fridays this year.

John Mark Taylor ’13 said he would welcome “a clearer sign-up process” for seminars and classes with limited enrollment.

“Often you don’t know whether you get into a seminar or not [until the end of shopping period],” Taylor said. “There are many uncertainties in that way.”

Reports of cases seen by the Executive Committee and complaints received by the UWC last spring were also presented at the meeting, though Miller said neither report generated significant discussion.

The Executive Committee saw an uptick in cases related to alcohol misuse, with 80 students referred to their residential college deans because of alcohol-related incidents in the spring of 2012, compared to 53 in Fall 2011.

The committee also dealt with significantly more cases of academic dishonesty than last fall — 31 compared to eight. But Executive Committee Chair and comparative literature professor Carol Jacobs said cases carried over from the end of the fall term to the spring could be responsible for the increase.

The UWC report, released this summer, outlined 49 cases of sexual misconduct that were brought to University officials between January and the end of June.

Faculty inquired about whether the UWC saw any trends in sexual misconduct cases, but Miller said the committee has not been operating long enough to draw any conclusions. Its first report, released in February, detailed 52 cases of sexual misconduct brought to Yale officials between July 2011 and the end of December 2011.

Yale College faculty meetings take place on the first Thursday of every month.


  • ldffly

    It’s eternal. Faculty generally hate shopping period. I didn’t find this out until I hit the graduate school, then I heard the griping. That was in the 70s.

  • purple

    If enrollment uncertainty is such a huge problem, then it’s absurd that the only source of enrollment info comes from OCS, where we have to “enroll” in a course for it to even show up on our shopping schedule. How many of us have enrolled in ten or fifteen classes in this way just so we can see all the classes we’re potentially interested in printed out on one schedule, for convenience of navigating the first few days of class? (And also in order to get relevant emails about those classes.) The enrollment process should somehow be decoupled from the “make your print-out schedule” process. Or better yet, give students an option for (anonymously) expressing their degree of certainty that they will actually end up in the classes they’re enrolled in. For large lecture classes, at least, this will provide a pretty accurate expected enrollment. I was “enrolled” in several of the classic lectures in the bar chart above for much of shopping period knowing full well there was only about a 10% chance I’d actually take the class. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to want such classes to show up on your schedule and (more importantly) receive emails about those classes until you’re certain you’re not taking them. And I’m sure people who want to do this would be more than happy to anonymously express the information that there’s only a 10% chance of their final enrollment, if such a thing were possible. Basically, there are ways of mitigating the enrollment uncertainty problems without scrapping shopping period. Collect better data!

    • yalengineer

      It could be worse. At Stanford you also have to “enroll” in the class. However, unlike Yale you actually have a limit in terms of how many units you can take in a quarter which means you have to look at classes that aren’t even on your list.

  • leftatyale

    @purple is partly right: Better data collection can easily mitigate much of the uncertainty from an administrative and logistic perspective — especially when enrollment stats can be decoupled from the wish to receive information about courses. This, though, makes little improvement to seminars in many ways as professors’ frustrations come from the fact that they cannot properly ‘start teaching’ and assign proper work before the end of shopping period. In the former case, what matters is roughly numeric; in the latter, it is the precise individuals who turn up with/without their work done.