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The Citizen

Administration responds to student concerns over course registration

By Laurie Au

The Harvard Kennedy School administration is open to considering proposals and ideas to improve the bidding system for registration, according to Associate Dean of Students Judy Kugel.

“It is not a perfect system, but it is a great improvement over all prior systems,” Kugel said. “One of the things I’m the most proud of in our school is that we do listen to our students and to what people need and we always try to make it better. If someone has a better idea on how to allocate the scarce resources that we have, we’re all ears.”

The bidding system, implemented in 2004 after discussions with faculty, staff and students, was loosely modeled after the registration system at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Kugel said. Class registration systems at other schools include lotteries and variations of bidding – such as permitting the selling and buying of bidding points at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Kugel said she thinks the HKS bidding system is a fairer way for students to get the courses they want by expressing their preferences as opposed to a lottery system, which leave course placements up to chance.

“I feel that the range in the quality of courses that we teach here are such that if you don’t get the course you want the most, you’ll still get a pretty good course,” Kugel said.
“By and large, I think people end up pretty satisfied with what they take.”

According to Kugel, more than 90 percent of HKS students this year got into at least one course that they bid for. HKS also added sections to popular courses that typically go to bidding, such as Negotiations, to accommodate students, Kugel said.

Rohit Malhotra, the incoming president of the Kennedy School Student Government (KSSG), said the main concern he noted after talking to students is the general puzzlement over the bidding system.

“I think people are just confused about it,” Malhotra said. “Whether we choose to recommend changes or not, one of the things we must do is to create a plethora of different resources that people can have, including a guide and a one-pager on bidding so year after year, people can have a resource to turn to.”

Along with other students, Kevin Prager drafted a list of suggestions to improve HKS’ systems, including advisor assignments, shopping days and bidding. One suggestion includes modifying bidding so every student accepted to a course pays the entire amount of points they bid for to establish a “truer point-value” and to reduce bid inflation by students.

“Most of us didn’t pay top-dollar to come to HKS to be taught by one particular professor. Most of us are much more concerned with ensuring that we leave here with the skills we need to do good – or do better – out in the world,” Prager said.  “‘Rock star’ professors are a nice-to-have.  Leaving with skills is a minimum requirement.  We’d like to help improve the system so that everybody – including HKS – gets what they need.”

Prager said now that KSSG elections are over, he plans on discussing these plans formally with the new officers. The official way to introduce and discuss changes to the bidding system is through KSSG’s Academic Affairs committee, which is co-chaired by Kugel and incoming Vice President for Academic Affairs, Neha Sharma, an MPA. Meetings are expected to begin later this month.

Dean of Students Chris Fortunato also welcomed HKS students to propose ideas and solutions.

“As a mission driven learning community, all of us at the Kennedy School (staff, faculty and students) must be open to intentionally and regularly re-examining what we do in pursuit of training the most effective public leaders,” Fortunato said in an e-mail. “I’m always eager to explore more effective ways to improve the learning environment and student life experience and welcome a collaborative discussion on how we might improve bidding.”