James Larson

During the first two weeks of each semester, Yale College students bustle in and out of overflowing classrooms and lecture halls. Unsure of their status in capped courses, students compete for coveted spots in seminars and fill their calendars with numerous courses to shop.

But Yale’s iconic course selection period — which allows students to participate in courses without enrolling in them — will become more structured starting next semester, according to Yale College Dean Marvin Chun. In an email sent to instructors and students on Wednesday, Chun announced the new guidelines for shopping period, which include asking instructors to post syllabi in advance and promptly notifying students of their admission to capped courses. The new policies, aimed at reducing uncertainty around limited-enrollment courses that do not require preregistration, will go into effect next semester.

“I have received numerous requests from the community to improve the course selection period, in particular by introducing guidelines that will provide timely information about courses with limited enrollments that do not require pre-registration,” Chun wrote in his email. “I have gathered recommendations to help students know as soon as possible the classes into which they have been admitted, and instructors know as soon as possible who is in their classes.”

Chun’s guidelines advise instructors to include “detailed and clear criteria for admitting students” in course syllabi and to post syllabi on Canvas before shopping period begins. Instructors should also post class lists of admitted students, as well as wait lists, on Canvas within 48 hours or by the next class meeting — whichever is shorter, according to Chun’s email. Students will be expected to sign up for limited-enrollment courses by 11:59 p.m. on the first day of class, and accept or decline seats in capped classes to which they have been admitted by 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 22 of the spring term.

In an interview with the News last week, Chun said that within the next few years, he hopes to implement a “robust” preregistration period during which students sign up for courses before the semester begins. During shopping period, students would be able to add and drop courses freely, Chun said.

“I don’t have any intention to be strict about add/drop,” Chun told the News last week. “We want students to explore the curriculum and try something new, and having a very flexible, free shopping period … is going to make sure we can protect that.”

Chun added that his guidelines for next term will not be requirements for instructors and students, as administrators “don’t have any way to enforce them.” Still, Chun told the News he hopes the guidelines lead students and instructors to communicate more efficiently during shopping period.

The guidelines will not apply to limited-enrollment courses that complete preregistration and enrollment before shopping period, as well as capped classes that only meet on Fridays. Policies for wait lists will remain unchanged, but Chun encouraged instructors and students to “manage and respond to them promptly,” according to the email.

The announcement comes amid a flurry of rumors speculating that the administration would get rid of shopping period altogether. Chun emphasized that he is “absolutely not getting rid of” one of Yale’s biggest selling points, and plans on implementing preregistration on a larger scale so the University can promptly assign teaching fellows and plan classroom locations, which would reduce uncertainty for both students and instructors alike.

Prior to Chun’s announcement, several faculty members sharply criticized Yale’s shopping period and said that they would like to see significant reforms, such as shortening it or eliminating shopping period altogether.

History professor Valerie Hansen said shopping period is “far too long” and encouraged Yale to implement preregistration for any class with limited enrollment, such as seminars.

Claudia Valeggia, an anthropology professor, noted that it is difficult to begin the semester’s curriculum until she has her final class roster at the end of shopping period. Valeggia added that students “coming and going” during the first two weeks of a semester is disruptive and suggested that Yale eliminate shopping period altogether.

Valeggia and English Department lecturer Jami Carlacio also criticized the use of the term “shopping” to describe course selection, citing an undue burden on professors to sway students to take their class over others.

“The whole concept of ‘shopping period’ bespeaks the commodification of education. I realize it’s officially called ‘Course Selection Period,’ but it is really about shopping,” Carlacio wrote in an email to the News. “Students are consumers and instructors are sellers of services. I want to share my enthusiasm for my course with prospective students, but I don’t want to feel like I have to ‘sell’ it.”

According to Chun, the Yale College Committee on Advising, Placement, and Enrollment produced a set of recommendations for improving shopping period last year. The changes will take several years to implement, Chun said, but the guidelines announced on Wednesday stem from the Committee’s recommendations, as well as input from the Yale College Council.

YCC President Saloni Rao ’20 commended Chun for responding to complaints about shopping period and said Chun’s interest in improving the process reflects his larger priority to minimizing student stress. Chun convened a task force composed of 10 students on Oct. 29 to discuss potential modifications to shopping period, according to task force member Lindsay Jost ’21.

Jost, who also co-authored a YCC report on shopping period reforms last year, said that Chun’s guidelines reflect progress but are only “first steps in fixing a system which still needs amends.” According to the YCC’s report last year, over 70 percent of surveyed students agreed or strongly agreed that shopping period is a “stressful time.”

In addition to mandating that syllabi be posted on Canvas at least two weeks before shopping period, the YCC report recommended that Yale create a centralized online wait list or preregistration tool and mandate tests to see if students did the readings on the first day of classes.

The first day of spring semester classes is Jan. 14, 2019.

Alice Park | alice.park@yale.edu