Academic review committee edges forward

While many Yale students spent this summer traveling to various destinations around the globe, members of the Committee on Yale College Education did a little traveling of their own.

As part of the year’s ongoing academic review, 10 members of the committee split up into two groups and traveled to Princeton and Stanford universities in June to discuss various aspects of undergraduate education with professors and administrators at those institutions.

The trips came after the 41-person committee — composed of students, professors and administrators — spent several months soliciting student opinion and discussing issues ranging from distributional requirements to advising. Representatives from each of the four subcommittees — biomedical education, the physical sciences and engineering, social and international studies, and the humanities and the arts — participated in the trips.

Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, who is leading the academic review and attended the Princeton trip, said the group was impressed by various aspects of the undergraduate curriculums at Princeton and Stanford. But he added that the group also returned from the trip feeling confident about certain aspects of Yale’s curriculum.

“We were impressed by some of the things [Princeton and Stanford] did well, but we also came back feeling very happy about the things we do well,” Brodhead said. “I don’t think we’ll copy anything we saw elsewhere.”

Barbara Wexelman ’03, a member of the physical sciences and engineering subcommittee who traveled to Stanford, said the experience was useful because Stanford conducted a similar academic review a decade ago.

“We’re in some ways modeling our review after their review,” Wexelman said. “Their review was very systematic and large like ours. They attempted to address problems of advising; they worked on a freshman seminar program; they tried to create an intro science core for non-science majors.”

But Wexelman added that learning about Stanford’s mistakes was also helpful.

“Their science program totally failed and had to be cancelled after three years,” Wexelman said. “That was really important for us because if we’re going down the same path, we don’t want to make the same mistakes.”

Wexelman is a former Yale Daily News photography editor.

Peter Salovey, Psychology chairman and head of the biomedical education working group, said he was impressed by Princeton’s freshman science curriculum, which allows first-year students to take smaller, seminar-style natural science courses instead of large lectures.

In addition to the two trips, the leaders of the sub-committees met sporadically during the summer to discuss a number of issues, with the major issue being distributional requirements.

With a meeting for subcommittee leaders scheduled for today and a meeting for all members set for Sept. 19, Brodhead said he hopes to begin drafting some concrete proposals in the near future.

Rachel Alpert ’03, a member of the social sciences working group, said she hopes the group will act on their ideas in the near future.

“I really want to do things that are more tangible instead of just talking about issues,” Alpert said.

While members of the review committee said they are hoping to have some concrete recommendations by the end of fall term, Wexelman said it is not a set deadline.

“If it happens, then it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Wexelman said. “I just want to make sure we do a good job.”

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