Popular ‘Cold War’ capped at 396

Wednesday. 4:30 to 5:20. Section I. Justin Cohen.

Friends of Justin Cohen ’04 did a double take, angry when they saw Cohen’s name on the History 261a Web site class list. They wondered how the sophomore cognitive science major weaseled his way into the popular Cold War lecture by professor John Gaddis, an esteemed historian and collaborator on a $12 million, 24-segment Cold War series that aired three years ago on CNN. The class was not offered last fall since Gaddis was on leave, and because so many students were interested in taking the course this year, many upperclassmen had to be turned away.

As it turns out, Justin Cohen ’02, a senior Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology major in Silliman College, got in. Justin Cohen the sophomore did not.

“That guy makes my life miserable,” Cohen ’04 said of his older namesake, but the youngster does not blame his friends for jumping the gun and getting angry at him.

Gaddis capped his class at 396 students. To fill the coveted slots, Gaddis gave first priority to seniors, regardless of major. All remaining spots were filled with junior history majors.

Many other hopeful students got turned away.

While freshmen found out this summer when reading the Blue Book that they would not be allowed in the lecture, many ambitious sophomores did try to get into the Cold War class. On the first day of class so many students filled the Art Gallery Lecture Hall that Gaddis ran out of the 600 sign up sheets he had printed. He then wished hopeful sophomore shoppers better luck next year and sent them packing.

“It looked pretty bleak from the beginning,” said sophomore Cold War hopeful Damon Nakamura.

Nakamura said sophomores and junior non-history majors were too embarrassed to leave right then, but slowly, throughout the class, the art gallery lecture hall shrunk from jam-packed to just full.

During the second meeting of Cold War the lecture hall was still too crowded, and Gaddis told the students he realized some people might have, “purely by accident, of course,” marked the wrong box for their class year or written the wrong major on their sign up sheets. He said all sheets would be fact-checked — so students who might have lied would ultimately be turned away from the class.

Slowly, throughout the class, more embarrassed and disappointed students filed out the doors. Gaddis said their spots would be filled with students who were on the wait list.

Gaddis said he is honored students have displayed such interest in his course.

“While I’m very pleased in one sense to know I can go away for a year and not be forgotten, I can’t help but to feel disappointed that a lot of students are not getting in, and I worry about that,” Gaddis said.

But Gaddis said he will keep offering the class so sooner or later, everyone who wants to take it can.

History director of undergraduate studies Paul Freedman said the class was capped mostly at Gaddis’ request, though Freedman said the History department does try to stay away from “monster-sized impersonal classes that we cannot staff.”

Courses about the history of foreign relations and strategy have always been popular at Yale, but Cold War — now in its fourth year — seems to be the most popular history class right now, Freedman said.

Freedman said if uncapped, Cold War would likely attract as many as a thousand students.

The class’s 11 teaching assistants and 22 sections already put a strain on the department to some degree. Freedman said more students would be difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate.

But Freedman said, “I’m not giving the orders [to Gaddis]. It’s the other way around.”

But Gaddis is happy with the class size as it stands. He said he can “just barely manage” the current class size and any increase would make his lectures less effective.

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