Registration error: complete override of process is necessary

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April 7, 2011

9:20 PM

Ah, registration. There’s nothing else that can change your opinion of the College of William and Mary so drastically in 30 seconds. It’s the only time I’ve really ever cared that my laptop seems to be one hundredth of a second slower than everyone else’s computer. If you’re like me, you hopped on Facebook about five seconds after you were done registering to find your news feed populated by people who think, at least for the time being, the College sucks. After exhausting my list and registering for a whole six credits, I can’t exactly blame them.

The changes made to registration this semester — the results of an open forum, a student survey and what was likely dozens of angry e-mails — meant students only had 24 hours to register instead of the entire week, and the major restriction, previously effective only on senior and junior days, was enforced through the sophomore day as well. In the Class of 2014, it seemed as if nobody was aware of the changes, which lead to an impressive amount of loud swearing at around 3:31 p.m. last Thursday.

I credit the Office of the University Registrar with doing the best it could to make the process as simple and efficient as possible at a school with fairly small class sizes and 5,700 students. It’s really tough to run registration without giving anyone the shaft, but I’m still having a hard time choosing between the lesser of about 40 evils.

Yes, keeping major restrictions all week will benefit rising sophomores who have declared their major, but it hurts two groups of people: those who are capable of selecting a major but want to take more classes in a department before they commit, and those who don’t have enough credits to declare a major. The major restrictions put an undue burden on the former group and are flat-out unfair to the latter.

If the College wants to maintain its commitment to letting students try out a variety of departments before selecting a major — a goal consistent with its liberal arts mission — then it needs to put up or shut up. This comes into direct conflict with the effort to give students the chance to take lots of major classes done during sophomore year — especially those who are minoring or double majoring — but that’s the nature of the beast. As it stands now, registration was a disaster for non-majors looking to take government, history or International Relations classes. Unconfirmed rumors originating from whomever majors in philosophy suggest that those classes filled also up fast.

The 24-hour registration block was touted as a way to give departments more accurate numbers in order to adjust their class offerings, but the direct effects of that may be invisible to students. What is apparent is that anyone worth his or her salt has a senior friend either kind enough or bribable enough to hold a spot for them. If you’re not with the program, the scheduling changes weren’t likely to help you out a lot: the spot transfers were merely delayed rather than eradicated. Unless the College is planning to tolerate serious sign-up restrictions or delays, black market registration will be impossible to stamp out.

The College needs to strip the registration process of everything besides its pragmatism. This means basing registration blocks on credits earned rather than social class — not one at a time, but in sensible groups. This sacrifices an upperclassman privilege in order to recognize that those who have filed an intent to graduate need to take upper-level classes to do so, even if they aren’t a senior. Departments should be able to place major, minor or GER restrictions if they need to, but they should first make sure everyone can get the credits they need and worry about everything else later.

The College should also make sure that any future changes are well-publicized so students don’t get any nasty surprises after it’s too late to change their plans, and should focus more on open opportunities and less on special privileges for specific groups. No one expects to be walking on sunshine through registration, but we can keep the process as painless as possible.

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