Faculty Debate Previous-Term Registration, Double Concentration Proposals


Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences discussed a slew of hot-button issues at their monthly meeting on Tuesday, including one proposal that would move Harvard to a system of previous-term registration instead of shopping week and another that would allow for double concentrations.

Harvard’s Faculty Council approved the previous-term registration and double concentration proposals last month, putting them on the docket for the full faculty to vote on later.

Faculty members also discussed a proposal that would allow students to cross-register in more than eight credits per semester, which was approved by the Faculty Council at its Feb. 23 meeting.

Tuesday marked the first time the full FAS debated the issues, which have garnered significant attention from undergraduates.


Double Concentrations

Faculty members weighed in Tuesday on the double concentration proposal, which would allow undergraduate students to concentrate in two disciplines without having to write a joint thesis.

Currently, College students who want to study two fields must pursue a joint concentration in which they are required to write a thesis that integrates methods from both disciplines.

Faculty were divided over the proposal, though it was approved unanimously by the Faculty Council last month.

Organismic and Evolutionary Biology professor David A. Haig spoke out against the plan, saying it would change how students use their electives by offering them an additional credential for their transcript.

Alternatively, Haig suggested relaxing the joint thesis requirement for joint concentrators.

Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, a professor of Fine Arts, said double concentrations would lead students away from pursuing joint concentrations, which she said establish valuable interdisciplinary connections.

But other faculty members said the proposal would be positive for undergraduates. Philosophy professor Bernhard Nickel said the plan would allow students the option to study two fields that are not conducive to a joint thesis.

Peter J. Burgard, a professor of German, proposed an amendment to the plan that would require a five-year review examining double concentrations’ effect on students’ education. The amendment passed with 86 percent support.

Computer Science and Applied Mathematics professor Salil P. Vadhan ’95 said double concentrations could cut off opportunities for students to explore and develop intellectual interests by increasing the number of badges they could collect.

But Amanda J. Claybaugh, Harvard’s dean of Undergraduate Education, said she would expect very few students to pursue a double concentration, given how few currently get secondary fields, language citations, joint concentrations, and concurrent masters. According to Claybaugh, 52 percent of students graduate with a secondary field, 16.2 percent with a language citation, 5.7 with a joint concentration, and 1 percent with a concurrent masters.

Previous-Term Course Registration

Faculty also discussed a controversial proposal that would implement a previous-term course registration system, abolishing shopping week — a scheduling quirk that allows students to sample classes before enrolling.

Nickel, the Philosophy professor, introduced the proposal, which had four key components: the add/drop period would be held during the first week of classes, allowing students to switch in and out of courses without instructor permission; faculty would be required to disclose some information about their courses earlier on; student advising timelines would be altered to adapt to the new course registration timeline; and technological enhancements would be made to improve the registration process.

Nickel said previous term registration would allow the FAS to respond to students’ plans in a more timely manner. He added that it would reduce stress in the early part of the semester by giving students time to make a thoughtful decision.

David Joselit ’81, chair of the Art, Film, and Visual Studies Department, voiced concerns about the proposal’s impact on limited enrollment classes that require skills assessments in advance of registration. The assessments would have to be done in the previous year when courses would not have assigned teaching fellows, he said, or in a chaotic, last-minute process at the beginning of the semester.

He added that the change would pose a challenge for the AFVS Department, which relies heavily on visiting professors and lecturers who are appointed less than a semester before enrollment currently occurs.

Sociology professor Jocelyn Viterna supported the plan. She said shopping period — which is popular among undergraduates — is problematic for faculty because it requires instructors to adapt courses at the last minute to find additional teaching fellows and coordinate new sections.

Computer Science professor Eddie Kohler proposed extending the add/drop period to 10 days, which he said would facilitate better advising. He added that students should be allowed to pre-register for up to six courses without permission, instead of four.

If approved, the previous-term registration proposal would be implemented ahead of spring 2024.


The FAS also debated a proposal that would remove the eight-credit limit on cross-registration courses — classes students can take at Harvard graduate schools and other neighboring universities. Under the plan, cross-registration courses would not count toward students’ grade point averages.

Faculty were split over the proposal.

Jewish Studies professor Jay M. Harris, a former dean of undergraduate education, said open cross-registration with professional schools could compromise the College’s liberal arts mission.

Claybaugh argued, however, that the College already has a robust set of requirements aimed at promoting a liberal arts education.

Anya E. B. Bassett, the director of undergraduate studies in Social Studies, said she hopes the proposal would encourage students to explore interdisciplinary boundaries while keeping them from engaging in coursework at professional schools to boost their transcripts.

Online Summer School Credit

The FAS also voted overwhelmingly in favor of a policy change that will allow Harvard College students to receive credit for taking online summer school courses.

Prior to the pandemic, Harvard allowed only some Summer School courses for credit — all of which were taught in-person. But it made a pandemic-era exception to allow remote courses to count for credit.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at