For 18 lucky seniors, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead’s house will double as a classroom this semester.
The special location is appropriate, since these students are taking Brodhead’s highly anticipated residential college seminar, “The American Prophetic Tradition.” The seminar, which deals with subject matter as diverse as Moby-Dick and David Koresh, provides the busy Brodhead with a valuable opportunity to return to his teaching roots.
“I have tried to teach something every year. For me, that is still what it is all about,” Brodhead said. “I have done a lot of teaching in my life. I like to stay in touch with my teaching.”
However, Brodhead’s time-consuming position as dean makes it difficult for him to devote his efforts to teaching. Brodhead said time becomes more and more scarce each year that he is dean as he becomes increasingly involved in University affairs.
Brodhead, an English professor, has taught in different forms during his years as Yale College dean, including teaching in the Directed Studies program in 1996 and leading a directed reading last year. Heading into this academic year, however, Brodhead was unsure if he would be able to teach.
“I was very busy in the fall, and I felt these pangs of withdrawal,” Brodhead said.
The seminar, which Brodhead said he has taught before in the English department, examines “one of the most persistent strains of American individualism, the tradition of prophetic self-assertion.”
Brodhead said he knows many students in his capacity as dean but looks forward to getting to know more in his capacity as a teacher.
“You go in with what you understand and join it with what other people understand and try to learn what nobody understands,” Brodhead said.
Students in the class said its interdisciplinary nature — combining literature, history, philosophy and religious studies — was one of the seminar’s main selling points.
“I am hoping it will epitomize my experience at Yale,” Emily Falk ’01 said.
Falk, a political science major, said the course will be a setting for serious intellectual discussion and is excited to have access to the esteemed Brodhead.
While foremost on students minds was the intriguing subject material the course offers, the prospect of simply taking a seminar with Brodhead in itself was a reason to apply.
“This is completely shallow, but I am having class with the dean of Yale College in his house,” Betsy Golden ’01 said.
Of course, not all students who wanted to participate in the seminar were given the opportunity. Brodhead declined to give the exact number of how many students applied, but said it was difficult to decide which of the many applicants would participate.
“The statements were enormously important — the whole basis of my decision,” Brodhead said of the comments students may write on the back of seminar application cards.
Nola Breglio ’01 said the class is composed of “campus leaders.” She indicated herself, as a former editor in chief of the Yale Herald, and pointed to former Herald Editor in Chief Daniel Silk ’01 and Rhodes Scholar Luke Bronin ’01 as examples of people in the class who are campus leaders.
Falk said she believed any decision to allow people into the seminar was based not on their leadership but on the interest they expressed on the back of their seminar applications.
Unlike most college seminars, Brodhead’s is not affiliated with any residential college in particular and instead is listed under the heading “Yale College.” The seminar was a late addition to the spring course offerings, and Brodhead said the description of the class was not added to the college seminar booklet until the day it went to press.