As Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead and the Committee on Yale College Education proceed with their yearlong review of the undergraduate curriculum, they should consider making several improvements to the course selection process.
Shopping period is one of the most unique and attractive parts of the Yale academic experience. Allowing students to sample classes before committing to them results in more fulfilling courses for students and more engaging classroom environments for professors and lecturers.
This semester’s implementation of online course registration is a welcome improvement. Not only does it reduce administrative costs in the Registrar’s Office, but it also cuts the time students must spend on the logistics of course selection.
Nevertheless, there remain a number of areas in which the academic review committee should push for change.
First, all departments should offer seminar preregistration. Because seminar professors usually have to select a final group at the first meeting, students are forced to choose a single seminar to shop at the exclusion of others being offered at the same time. Preregistration eases this guessing game by providing students in the major with reserved places in a single seminar and, just as importantly, giving all other students an idea of the course’s popularity. Of course, it would still be impossible to shop more than one seminar at a time, but majors would benefit from the guaranteed place in a seminar of interest, and non-majors would be able to make better shopping choices since they could judge the difficulty of getting into each course.
Second, seminar professors should e-mail preliminary class lists to applicants within 24 hours of the course’s first meeting. Faculty members who forget or refuse to do this fail to give students ample time to adjust their shopping plans to accommodate other courses, and they force students to make unnecessary assumptions or guesses about their chances of getting in. Also, when professors choose to delay announcing final selections for their courses, they reduce the amount of time students have to purchase books and complete the inevitable first week reading assignment.
Finally, professors should try to adhere at least somewhat to consistent standards in choosing students — which often means giving preference to upperclassmen and majors over underclassmen and non-majors. While faculty members have to make some subjective judgments, they should strive to invoke general principles of fairness. Many remember the story of sociology professor Sharon Kinsella, who last year capped her lecture course “Girls’ Culture and Contemporary Society” by walking up and down the aisles of Luce Hall choosing students at random. Yale students would not choose their classes by randomly thumbing through the Blue Book, and professors should show equal consideration and care in choosing their students.
If the academic review committee were to recommend these three changes, shopping period would be more convenient and fair for all involved. And more importantly, it would result in more students’ being able to enroll in the classes best suited for them.