Shopping period offers us the luxury of sampling classes before we choose them. But when it comes to seminars, it causes more anguish and lost time than it is worth.
Last year, we proposed that Yale adopt a preregistration system for seminars. Students would be able to sign up before the start of the term, thus ensuring that classes could genuinely start on the first day. Some spots would remain open to shoppers in a system similar to what the History and Political Science departments, among others, already employ. But Yale shows no signs of moving towards such a policy, so individual departments and faculty should institute better systems of choosing students for seminars.
As the system stands now, both professors and students suffer when it takes two weeks for class rosters to settle. First meetings are devoted to ironing out enrollment. Students sit in every corner of classrooms’ floors. Professors assign books they know will go unread.
In lectures, we appreciate the opportunity to see whether we want to hear the professor speak for a few hours each week. Professors make valid complaints about lecturing to students who are constantly coming and going, but that chaos offers students the chance to plan an academically rewarding term.
But in seminars, sky-high demand leads to a desperate hunt for acceptance rather than a chance to pick just the right class. Since professors shorten or water down opening classes to accommodate shoppers, the first few days aren’t necessarily a good preview of the rest of the course. Because we often have to sit through several seminars in the hope of being admitted to just one, we have less time for the more fruitful project of shopping lectures.
Every professor handles differently this system that is a hardship for them but supposed to be a boon for us. The English department has adopted a good application system for its writing classes. But its other seminars are a free-for-all. With a mix of index cards, emails and postponement of certainty, professors try to accommodate us. But the waiting and jostling for spots that ensues often leaves us wondering whether shopping seminars is a luxury we really want and whether it is worth professors’ trouble.
It is impossible to find a perfect way to sign up for seminars. Universal preregistration would limit our choices. Departmental attempts to simplify the process can exclude nonmajors. We can’t have everything; choice and stability do not completely jibe.
Instead, professors should exercise more control over the process. Although they can’t shorten or eliminate shopping period, they can set their own terms and make quick decisions. If the University won’t institute a preregistration system, individual departments and professors can. The English department has adopted a good application system for writing classes. But the same department’s seminars are a free-for-all.
There’s nothing to stop professors from instituting preregistration or simply establishing rosters within the first two days of shopping period. Doing so would restore to the semester’s first two weeks a degree of sanity that would allow us to take full advantage of the opportunity to shop lectures. It would allow professors to control their own schedules. It would finally grant us a full 13 weeks of productive classes.