Editorial: Off to a better start - reform the start of fall semester| September 20, 2015
The start of classes is an exciting time, offering students a chance to meet new people, reconnect with old friends and explore varied interests. But for some students, this is overshadowed by schedules not yet finalized due to University policies related to add/drop period for non-freshman, precept selection and access to course syllabi. The Board proposes three reforms to the start of the fall semester: allow upperclassmen to add or drop courses when Academic Year Sign-In begins, improve the process of precept selection and require that professors post course syllabi on Blackboard two weeks prior to the start of classes. We believe these changes will ease students’ transition to the fall semester and create more choice and flexibility.
While freshmen spent last Tuesday finalizing their schedules, a number of upperclassmen were left unsure about which classes they would be attending the next day. This uncertainty could have been avoided if the University allowed students to modify their schedules when Academic Year Sign-In began a week before classes started. Holding an early add/drop period is particularly important for students who need to add a course due to the cancellation of another class they were planning to take. Moreover, students often discover new interests over the summer while traveling and working; these students should be able to revise their schedules before new students arrive on campus. The Board recognizes that the current policy reserves time for freshmen to register for courses, but does not believe that the few late summer schedule modifications that would occur would significantly burden freshman course selection.
Second, the Board proposes that students be allowed to sign up for precepts or labs before fall classes start. Currently, while many classes do allow students to select their precepts during course registration in the spring, some classes do not allow section selection until mid-September. This exacerbates students’ uncertainty about their schedules and delays the discovery of potential conflicts until the fall, when it is more difficult to make broad schedule changes. It is simpler for students to sign up for courses and precepts at the same time in the spring, and we believe this should be broadly allowed across all courses. However, the Board recognizes that precepts cannot always be fully finalized due to uncertainty about who the preceptors will be. To address this concern, the Board proposes that, at minimum, all classes finalize precept schedules several weeks before classes start and allow upperclassmen to register for precepts as part of the earlier add/drop period recommended above. A finalized schedule helps students consider their other commitments and extracurriculars more carefully.
Finally, syllabi should be available on Blackboard two weeks prior to the start of classes. This would help students begin planning their semester. For example, if a student realizes she has three papers due the same week, she would have time to decide to switch classes before the semester starts. This is preferable to making that decision during the first week when a student may already have gotten behind on assignments. Additionally, students would have the option of beginning their work during the last few days of summer break. This would be particularly useful for students who have significant extracurricular responsibilities at the beginning of the year, such as residential college advisers and the officers of student groups that hold time-consuming tryouts. Book lists are already made available two weeks prior to the start of classes, suggesting that courses are largely finalized by this time, so the Board does not believe this reform would pose a heavy burden on professors. It would only benefit students.
These simple reforms – having an earlier add/drop period, improving precept selection and posting syllabi two weeks before classes – allow students more flexibility to make the choices that work best for them, without requiring professors or the University to make significant changes to course organization on their end. The Board strongly advocates their implementation.
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.