Review committee researches and reaches out

After three months of conducting research and interviewing faculty and students, the committee charged with Yale’s comprehensive review of undergraduate education has been making substantial progress, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said.

Yale President Richard Levin announced plans for the academic review at the tercentennial celebration last October and subsequently appointed the 41-member Committee on Yale College Education in January. The committee will present an overview of its activities and its goals to the Yale Corporation today.

All four of the academic working groups — biomedical education, the physical sciences and engineering, social and international studies, and the humanities and the arts — are composed of professors, students and recent graduates. Since January, these subcommittees have been conducting research and soliciting opinions from both students and faculty members.

“I continue to be extremely impressed by the dedication of the faculty members and the students involved,” Brodhead said. “The level of engagement has been very, very high.”

Brodhead said he hopes the committee will be able to make concrete recommendations by the end of the fall semester.

In addition to the activities of the subcommittees, Brodhead began holding forums in the residential colleges this week to hear student concerns and suggestions. The committee decided to hold these meetings in the colleges so students would have a more intimate setting in which to express their views, said Barbara Wexelman ’03, a member of the physical sciences and engineering working group.

Wexelman said she has been impressed by the forums, which have attracted between 30 and 50 students per meeting and have lasted a few hours.

“A lot of the things we’re hearing, we expected to hear,” Wexelman said. “But students are offering great suggestions and interesting ideas, and it’s an atmosphere of mutual respect and interest. I think [the meetings have] been very helpful.”

Wexelman is a former Yale Daily News photography editor.

Astronomy Department chairman Charles Bailyn, who is leading the physical sciences working group, said his subcommittee has been focusing on science education for non-science majors as well as the distribution requirements.

Bailyn said the working group is gathering relevant data and is beginning to interview a substantial number of science professors, particularly those who teach courses geared toward non-science majors.

“These are really interesting conversations,” Bailyn said. “People have really made an effort in these courses, and they’re very up front about what works and what doesn’t. But one of the best things about [the academic review] is that it gets the faculty to talk to each other and opens up a means of communication.”

Wexelman said the physical sciences working group will also begin soliciting student input by conducting directed surveys aimed at particular groups like non-science majors, freshmen and seniors.

The biomedical education subcommittee, led by Psychology Department chairman Peter Salovey, has met with pre-medicine students majoring in a science as well as pre-medicine students not majoring in a science.

“These outreach efforts were really revealing,” Salovey said. “It’s too early to draw any conclusions, but we found out what they liked about their science classes and what they didn’t like. We really loved it because it was exactly what we hoped would happen.”

Salovey said some of the main issues students raised were the relationships between lecture courses and laboratory courses, undergraduate research opportunities, and the possibility of allowing undergraduates more access to the resources at the Yale School of Medicine.

Chirag Badlani ’03, a member of the working group on social and international studies, said his subcommittee has held open forums for international studies majors and for students who have or are interested in studying abroad.

“It’s our mandate to try to internationalize Yale students; so if improved upon, I think international studies has the potential to be really worthwhile,” Badlani said.

Music professor Leon Plantinga, a member of the subcommittee on humanities and the arts, said that working group has been exploring the possibility of modifying distributional requirements so there would be more distributional groups, but groups that would be more “defined.”

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