Committee reviews Yale education

At last October’s Tercentennial celebrations, Yale President Richard Levin announced plans for the first comprehensive review of undergraduate education in 30 years.

A month later, Levin revealed a mission statement and the members of the Committee on Yale College Education. Led by Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, the group — which is composed of four subcommittees — had its first major meeting in January. The four working groups have been working separately since then to gather information.

The 41-member committee, composed of faculty members, alumni and students, is divided into four academic working groups: biomedical education, physical sciences and engineering, social and international studies, and the humanities and arts.

“We went into this knowing it would take a long time to learn what’s available, to learn what opportunities are around us, to learn to diagnose problems,” Brodhead said. “We’re still in the learning process, but I’m confident important things will follow.”

The entire committee met again on April 28 to share information so the whole group would know how the project is proceeding, Brodhead said.

Some of the major issues in the academic review have centered around the distributional requirements, the advising system and the Credit/D/Fail option, said Peter Salovey, chairman of the Department of Psychology and of the biomedical science working group.

Astronomy chairman Charles Bailyn, who is leading the physical sciences working group, said the initial focus on science courses for non-science majors has broadened into an examination of distributional requirements.

Bailyn said his subcommittee is still gathering information so that it knows what kinds of issues are important and what kinds of questions to ask.

“We are in the process of designing a survey that’s going to go out to non-science majors,” Bailyn said. “Until we have everything in front of us, we don’t want to make any claims.”

Bailyn added that there may be some things that can be changed much faster along the way, in addition to the serious proposals.

“If nothing else come of this, the conversations of students with faculty, and among faculty, and among students, have been very valuable although, of course, I hope that we will make substantial changes,” Bailyn said.

Political science chairman Ian Shapiro, who is leading the social and international studies working group, said the subcommittee has been examining stand-alone majors, interdisciplinary programs and study abroad options.

“I think there’s a lot of interest in beefing up and making a lot more readily available for students to study abroad,” Shapiro said. “But not just wandering around the world, but rooted in their study at Yale.”

History professor John Gaddis, a member of the social sciences working group, said he thought his subcommittee was heading in the direction of creating more broad and more interdisciplinary international studies courses. Gaddis, who will take over as chairman of the Program of International Studies this fall, said he hopes more senior professors will teach in international programs.

The biomedical education working group has discussed a number of issues, ranging from strengthening undergraduate research opportunities to decreasing the psychological distance of Science Hill, Salovey said.

Salovey’s subcommittee has talked to science majors and non-science majors pursuing pre-medical studies as well as freshman counselors and key faculty members and administrators.

The humanities subcommittee has been examining a number of issues such as improving undergraduate access to graduate and professional schools, teaching within Yale College, and the question of whether the Yale College curriculum meets the goals of a liberal education, humanities subcommittee member Patrick Casey Pitts ’03 said in an e-mail.

“We are concerned that a Yale College education, because of the graduate school-like specificity of most seminars and the lack of broad lectures on fundamental topics, sometimes lacks the coherence and breadth for which a liberal education aims,” Pitts said.

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