At the beginning of each semester, while course enrollment is generally standard across the board, the procedure for enrolling in precepts varies considerably across University departments. Common methods include choosing precepts during course selection or enrolling during a set period at the beginning of the semester; however, some departments have recently adopted a method of random precept assignment based on students’ current course enrollments and their TigerHub schedules. The Board believes that this method of precept assignment is problematic because it restricts the ability for students to tailor their schedules to their own preferences. Accordingly, the Board believes precepts should not be automatically assigned based on student class schedules in TigerHub. However, this should not preclude professors from continuing to exercise discretion in balancing out enrollment levels or merging small precepts. Furthermore, the Board reiterates its call, asarticulated last year, for the Registrar to create an additional add/drop period for non-freshmen prior to the start of classes in the fall semester.
Mandatory assignment of precept sections by professors based solely on TigerHub class schedules is problematic for several reasons. First, this inherently ignores sources of schedule conflicts that are not academic. Princeton students are incredibly busy, and many participate in extracurricular activities with regular practice or meeting schedules. As a result, precept assignment based on class schedule ignores important sources of conflict inherent to the lives of Princeton students. Even if a professor is willing to modify precept assignments because of certain types of conflicts, this does not solve the problem as it puts individual professors in a position to decide whether a student’s schedule conflicts are valid enough to merit a change in precept time. Oftentimes, these decisions on what constitutes a legitimate excuse are arbitrary. The Board prefers a system in which students are able to choose precepts based on whatever factors they deem relevant, such as time and location. Overall, this system is fairer, better for students, and still gives professors discretion to balance out precept enrollments if needed.
Several justifications are given for a precept assignment system that are worth addressing. Some faculty members argue that precepts should be balanced on the basis of gender. The Board disagrees because we see value both in balanced and unbalanced precepts for all students involved. Students will not always be in perfectly gender-balanced situations in their lives and precepts are helpful for learning how to react to group dynamics with different gender ratios. Of course, if a student were extremely uncomfortable with the ratio, they could always discuss an individual precept change to suit their needs. Giving students latitude to shape their own learning experience in this way is an important component of the University’s “real-world” education, and our proposal lets students do just that by picking their own precepts, whether it is based on time or other factors like their friends’ schedules or gender balance preferences. Additionally, another argument is that courses with only a small number of precepts should be able to assign students to simplify scheduling. In this case, as mentioned above, professors should maintain discretion to balance out precepts so that, for instance, if a course only has two precepts but one has 15 students and the other has 5, TigerHub schedules can be used to equalize the enrollment.
The University should also add an additional non-freshmen add/drop period before the first day of classes in the fall. Currently, non-freshmen who want to change their fall courses cannot do so until 6 a.m. on the first day of classes. This ignores the reality that summer experiences and other factors can change a student’s outlook on classes between spring course selection and the new semester. We recognize that the Registrar might find it desirable to have a buffer between any course changes and freshmen enrollment the day before classes commence. As a result, we propose that the add-drop period could take place as early as several weeks before the academic year begins, depending on the needs of the Registrar. These course changes are going to take place anyway, so we see no reason to have non-freshmen wake up at 6 a.m. on the first day of classes and have extended uncertainty about their fall schedules. The policy would also be beneficial to freshman students, because many students enroll in more courses than they plan on actually taking during registration in the spring. An earlier add/drop would allow these drops to take place before freshman enrollment and help free up spaces for freshmen in courses.
These two changes would have relatively minor impacts on professors and University staff, but the benefits for students are immense. The University already gives students considerable discretion and choice in their academic life. We believe these changes are necessary to be fully consistent with that laudable principle.
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor, and the Editor-in-Chief.