Chun’s academic agenda
Under the tenure of Dean Marvin Chun, Yale College saw the end of shopping period, the expansion of Credit/D/Fail, and struggles in the advising system.
Joshua Baehring, Staff Photographer
During the 2021-2022 school year, Yale College implemented a series of academic changes, in part to relieve stress among students. However, with a confusing academic advising system, some of that stress may be here to stay.
Yale College Dean Marvin Chun canceled the traditional “shopping period” for classes at the beginning of each academic semester in favor of what he considered a more unified and less stressful system. Chun also added two more opportunities for students to take academic courses for Credit/D/Fail marks in lieu of traditional letter grades.
Meanwhile, students have expressed disappointment with the end of shopping period and called Yale’s academic advising “unhelpful” in helping them navigate this system.
Course Selection — The Death of Shopping Period
Starting in fall 2021, Yale College nixed the traditional “shopping period” in favor of a new early registration system.
While shopping period allowed students to try out an unlimited number of courses during the first two weeks of each semester, early registration period requires students to register for courses in the middle of the previous semester.
“We are responding to long-standing requests from students and from faculty to have a process that gives students more certainty about which classes they are in or not,” Chun told the News, adding that the plan had been over five years in the making. “In particular, it matters the most for limited enrollment classes. In the past, when we tried to do it at the beginning of the term, it was very rushed, stressful and somewhat disorganized because everyone was on their own timelines.”
However, in an informal survey of 30 Yale undergraduates in April, more than two-thirds reported being dissatisfied about the course registration process.
“My main issue with the course selection process is broadly that it forces students to make plans based on information they don’t have and without the time to fully consider options,” Tai Michaels ’23 wrote to the News.
Many alumni expressed their disappointment with this change. Kristin Stone ’94 told the News that shopping period was integral to the friendships she formed at Yale, and to the collective experience of being a Yale student.
Course Credit — Cheating and Credit/D/Fail
Yale College also made adjustments to course credit during the 2021-2022 school year. Currently, students are allowed to convert up to six courses to Credit/D/Fail throughout their time as an undergraduate. Two of these options expire after a student’s first two semesters, while the remaining four do not expire. Chun first introduced this policy during the 2020-2021 school year. Before, students were allowed to take up to four courses for marks of Credit/D/Fail during their time, with no restrictions on when they could use the Credit/D/Fail option. The Credit/D/Fail mode of grading allows students to take classes for credit rather than for a letter grade if they earn above a D+ in a class.
The expanded Credit/D/Fail options are intended to “encourage academic experimentation and to promote diversity in students’ programs,” according to the 2021-2022 Handbook for Instructors of Undergraduates in Yale College.
“I just worry about the unintended consequences of forcing a letter grade, which is that it actually limits their exploration and forces them to take easier courses that are more manageable even if it’s not what they’re truly interested in,” Chun said while advocating for the expanded Credit/D/Fail system which he believed would foster intellectual curiosity and exploration.
Students may convert course credits to Credit/D/Fail until the last day of classes in a term. Additionally, students cannot apply the Credit/D/Fail option to Yale College distributional requirements. Policies on the use of Credit/D/Fail for major requirements differ by major.
Yale College students, along with the Yale College Council, have called for changes to these requirements, including more opportunities to use Credit/D/Fail for major or distributional requirements. Some students hoped for a retroactive Credit/D/Fail option — to be able to convert a class to Credit/D/Fail after receiving a final letter grade.
While Yale College has offered students these opportunities for academic exploration, concerns about academic integrity still remain.
More than half of the students in the fall 2021 class “Introduction to Biological Anthropology,” were referred to the University’s Executive Committee for academic dishonesty during the online open-note final examinations.
Advising — What Advising?
Yale College advisers are supposed to help students make decisions about course selection and course credits throughout their time as undergraduates. However, many Yale College students have expressed their frustration with the current advising system.
Typically, first-year students are assigned a first-year advisor, usually a fellow in their residential college. However, these first-year advisors are not necessarily professors, and students felt that these advisors could not sufficiently answer their questions about course selection, or Yale College in general.
“I feel like my advisor had good intentions, but I didn’t find our meeting particularly helpful,” Cindy Li ’25 said. “After the first meeting, I didn’t really feel like it was worth reaching out for a second one.”
Dozens of students recounted similar experiences with the advising system, with some emphasizing that their advisors were friendly but seemed untrained in specific advising principles. Some simply never met their advisors.
First-years often relied instead on their first-year counselors, or FroCos, for practical advice about academic scheduling and course selection. While FroCo Luis León Medina ’22 considered this system to be helpful, he also noted its limitations.
“Yale students love being able to provide support,” Medina said. “However, peer-to-peer shouldn’t be the only resource for students. It shouldn’t be solely in my hands as FroCo (as someone majoring in sociology) to sway a student one way or another.”
Administrators have plans to improve academic advising in the years to come. Risa Sodi, assistant dean of Yale College and director of advising and special programs at Yale, told the News that she is working with Dean of Academic Programs George Levesque and Schirmeister to develop a summer advising plan.
Classes for the 2022-2023 academic year will begin on Aug. 31.