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It's Hard Not to Find a HASS-D Subject or Two

By Jeremy Hylton
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The Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Information Office fills up at the beginning of each term. It is not unusual to find 15 people crowding into the room, which is smaller than some professors' offices, trying to find classes or complete petitions.

Bette K. Davis, HASS Office coordinator, helps students find classes to fulfill the HASS Distribution requirements. "I remember one student who was here last week whose schedule was so restrictive. The only time of the week she had free was Tuesday and Thursday afternoons," she recalled.

"We found the subjects that met during those times when she was free, and three were still open, and she said she just wasn't interested in them," Davis said. The student left without finding a class.

The fear of not finding a HASS-D class -- particularly the fear of being "bumped" from an oversubscribed class in a lottery -- is shared by all students. Surprisingly, cases like the one above are rare.

"That's really more the exception," Davis explained. "Generally, we are able to find something that fits the students schedule."

Without question, there are many students who do not get a space in their preferred HASS-D class, but that does not mean there are few HASS-D spaces available. There are a few classes with very high pre-registration enrollments -- like Introduction to Fiction (21.003) and Writing and Reading the Essay (21.735) -- and many classes with lower enrollments.

Because enrollment in HASS-D classes is limited to 25 students per section, lotteries are held to "bump" the extra students. Bumped students are forced to find other classes or wait until the next time the class is offered, when they are guaranteed a place.

Enough spaces are available

"We have made sure there are enough spaces" to accommodate the total demand for HASS-Ds, said Harriet Ritvo, associate dean for the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. She said difficulties arise because many students tend to register for the same classes, preventing an even distribution of students among the available spaces.

Matching students who need HASS-D classes to graduate with available subjects can be difficult, but Davis found that most students dealt with the problem well. "Even though we were very busy and we had a lot of students in here, it's rare that there is a student who is angry or has a bad attitude," she said.

The lottery system could have posed serious problems for seniors this year. In the past, seniors were given top priority in HASS-Ds and did not face a lottery unless there were too many seniors. Senior priority was eliminated this year, but apparently few seniors were troubled by lotteries in classes they needed to graduate.

"There were surprisingly few we heard from," Davis said. "I can remember a conversation with one senior... that's really the only one that I heard from."

Ritvo, who heads the committee that oversees the HASS-D program, said that the committee did not expect the change in senior priority to be a serious problem. "For most people, you have eight semesters to take three subjects. Really, if you don't get into one you can take it another semester," she said.

Some seniors also take fourth and fifth HASS-D classes to fulfill the general eight-subject HASS requirement. This attests to the popularity of HASS-D classes, but creates trouble when classes are oversubscribed. The problem the committee saw was that giving priority to seniors taking an extra HASS-D would force out underclassmen trying to fulfill requirements.

"It seems likely that the classes in which there is the most consistent and predictable oversubscription are classes which attract significant numbers of people taking a fourth or fifth HASS-D," Ritvo said.

Offerings reflect enrollment trends

Individual departments and sections try to offer more sections of popular classes. The history department, for example, originally planned to offer two sections of The Age of Reason (21.355), which would have accommodated 50 students. When 125 students pre-registered for the class, two more sections were added.

The management of pre-registration is problematic, though, because students often change their schedules after classes start, Ritvo explained. "It would be nice if we could make registration more of a contract," but that would probably be too great a limit on students' freedom to choose classes, she said.

After adjustments are made based on registration data, lotteries are the only recourse for professors who are not allowed to have more than 25 students per section. "All of our faculty hate to run the lottery. It's just the best system we have figured out for dealing with the situation," Ritvo said.

Though the rules for the lottery are quite explicit, the actual administration of lotteries has proven to be inconsistent. In some cases, professors decide to give priority to seniors or students majoring in their department, even though the rules forbid it.

"It happens and I don't know how much it happens," Ritvo said.

"It seems the method that has been established has been publicized to students. It is too bad if individual faculty members decide not to live up to the expectations that have been produced in the minds of students," Ritvo said.