As classrooms fill with waves of eager students, shopping period is leaving many Yale faculty members unsatisfied with the current undergraduate course selection process.
Yale faculty interviewed — ranging from professors who teach large lectures to those who lead smaller seminars — expressed frustration with shopping period. While they said they understand how these two weeks allow students to explore and sample unique classes, faculty said they also face immense logistical issues as waves of students flow in and out of their classrooms. Yale students are not entirely satisfied with the process either: A 2015 Yale College Council report found that a majority of the 1,452 students surveyed rated shopping period as either “very stressful” or “more stressful than the rest of the semester.”
“The pros [of shopping period] are almost entirely for students,” said history and American studies professor Joanne Meyerowitz. “Faculty members are much less happy about shopping period and much less entertained by it as students are.”
Chemistry professor Patrick Holland said in an email that professors of lectures face an especially large workload during shopping period. Holland said professors often struggle to accurately determine how many teaching fellows will be needed in a large lecture class due to the fluctuating number of enrolled students during the first two weeks of each semester. These fluctuations also prevent professors from conducting course-specific teaching fellow training, and TFs are often switched between classes or added to classes after the semester has begun, Holland said.
Philosophy graduate student Kayla Velnoskey GRD ’21, who currently works as a TF for an undergraduate history lecture on women in modern America, said that TFs can be initially assigned to teach a specific course but then suddenly changed to assist with a different course weeks into the semester. She added that many teaching graduate students must play “catch up” in order to become familiar with the material they teach in section.
Shopping period can be a hassle for professors in smaller seminars as well, according to history and history of medicine professor Naomi Rogers.
“Faculty members often feel the need to ‘tap dance’ to convince students to stay in their classes,” Rogers said.
Chemistry professor Narasimhan Ganapathisubramanian said that chemistry laboratory classes would be able to start one week earlier without the existence of shopping period. Ganapathisubramanian argued that “students end up learning less” as a result of shopping period.
Shopping period has not always looked the way it does now. The current guidelines of shopping period were changed in fall 2014 to provide greater structure, requiring students to submit an online nonbinding preliminary schedule before classes meet and ensuring that upperclassmen’s final course schedules must be due on the same day. A five-day schedule-amendment period was also added during which students are allowed to add or drop one course as well as elect to enroll in a course Credit/D/Fail.
Still, professors are not convinced that changes can be made to significantly improve shopping period as it currently stands. Meyerowitz said that although attempts have been made to improve shopping period, the issues are in the “nature of the beast.”
“The only way to improve it is to get rid of it,” Ganapathisubramanian said.
Final course schedules will be due for the Class of 2020 on Jan. 25.