Committee should consider addition of ‘Policy Sciences’

In its Nov. 12 issue, the Yale Daily News reported on a plan to conduct the first major academic review of undergraduate education at Yale in 30 years (“Levin reveals academic review mission and staff,” 11/12).

The article noted that in his charge to the Committee on Yale College Education, Yale President Richard Levin “emphasized the importance of using Yale’s numerous resources to further undergraduate education,” and added that “the primary goal of the initiative would be to prepare Yale students for the future.”

Happily, the committee chairman, Dean Richard Brodhead, indicated that the review will be an open, inclusive process. This perspective is welcomed, in keeping with Yale’s tradition of educational excellence, and provides an opportunity to draw attention to a resource at Yale that is quite possibly unknown to many members of the Yale College community and which can be used creatively and responsibly in anticipating and cultivating the future.

Imagine, if you will, a coherent discipline that draws from many different fields by design, a specialization in the integration of knowledge and experience for purposes of fostering a commonwealth of human dignity for all. To some, this may sound grandiose, even preposterous; to others, who may be skeptical as well, the potentialities of such an interdisciplinary study would be well worth pursuing.

Regardless of how one sees it, it may come as a surprise that not only does such a discipline already exist, but that it was developed principally at Yale.

The term used to designate this interdisciplinary discipline is “policy sciences” — the label, though, is less important than its content.

The policy sciences are an approach to understanding and solving problems. Whether the problems are personal, local, regional, international or planetary, the policy sciences provide an integrated and comprehensive set of procedures for addressing these problems in ways that help to clarify and secure the common interest.

Helping people improve their self-understanding and orientation in the flow of events and make better decisions are the central objectives of the policy sciences, and the fundamental goal, as mentioned above, is to foster a commonwealth of human dignity for all.

In pursuit of this goal, the policy sciences draw on and have the potential to contribute to all fields of knowledge. The emphasis is on understanding problems in context in order to develop recommendations that are both realistic and desirable. The content and procedures of many disciplines may be brought constructively to bear on efforts to achieve such results. In this spirit, the policy sciences do not privilege any one field.

The variety of problems and issues to which the policy sciences have been applied is vast.

These applications include comprehensive, detailed empirical studies of world politics, international law and the global community; local, national and international questions of governance and development; the achievement of human rights in all contexts; natural resources policy and management; issues of scientific leadership and science policy in general; improving communication, health and education at all levels; and so on.

The policy sciences have been taught at Yale for many years, but rarely to undergraduates. Our sense is that there may be significant interest among Yale College students in an interdisciplinary discipline that is concerned fundamentally with understanding and shaping the future in ways that are compatible with human dignity.

Hopefully, President Levin, Dean Brodhead, and the other members of the Committee on Yale College Education would share this interest. In our view, the policy sciences and allied efforts can help Yale College achieve its educational and leadership mission in today’s complex, rapidly changing world.



Andrew R. Willard is a senior research scholar at the Yale Law School. Tim W. Clark is an adjunct professor at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a fellow at the Institution of Social and Policy Studies at Yale University.

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