Who killed shopping period?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The class of 2011 doesn’t know much about those little pink slips. But students who arrived before electronic registration was introduced in April 2007 vividly remember filling out the Pepto-Bismol-colored add/drop forms, rushing up to professors after class to get their signatures and then waiting in line at University Hall to turn them in.

With the administrative changes have come new rules – caps on course enrollment – and the enforcement of old ones, like pre-requisites for upper-level courses, that concern some students fond of Brown’s famed flexibility.

Banner, a $23 million upgrade of University computer records, met resistance and skepticism from many students when its online course registration feature was introduced. A “Brown Against Banner” Facebook group attracted hundreds of members, and students anxious that the system signalled the end of the New Curriculum’s trademark freedom vented their frustration in letters to The Herald and at meetings of the Undergraduate Council of Students.

University Registrar Michael Pesta says the move to Banner was inevitable and necessary. “Banner is part of the University’s attempt to stay up with the times,” he said.

Lauren Kolodny ’08, UCS vice president for 2007-08, recognizes the benefits of online registration but remains somewhat wary of its impact.

“On the one hand, it’s necessary for Brown to become more electronic in general,” she said. On the other hand, Kolodny said, students worry that the changes will erode the freedom of the two-week shopping period that marks the beginning of each semester.

Before Banner, professors could – and often did – make exceptions with the stroke of a pen. Now that Banner can block students from registering for some classes, some students worry the system inhibits Brown students’ ability to map their own academic path.

“The system as it is isn’t tailored to Brown values,” Kolodny said.

Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences Sheila Blumstein, who is also a former dean of the College and interim president of the University, said Banner should not change the way students go about shopping period. “The idea was not to change registration philosophically, but just to make things easier,” she said.

But Kolodny noted that Banner itself is not the problem – it’s a symptom of what many upperclassmen perceive as a bureaucratic transformation of the administration in University Hall. “I don’t think the Banner system will change Brown values,” she said. “I do fear that more and more things becoming systemized and institutionalized could do that.”