In response to proposed changes to distributional requirements, students and professors supported the goal of broadening academic horizons, but some feared a liberal Credit/D/Fail policy could reduce academic accountability.
In its review released last week, the Committee on Yale College Education recommended requiring students to take two courses in each of five areas: the humanities and arts, social sciences, natural sciences, writing development and quantitative reasoning. It also suggested changing the Credit/D/Fail policy so students could take any four courses Credit/D/Fail during their Yale careers, but not to satisfy the distributional requirements.
The report said the committee made its recommendations to balance the “desire to promote exploration and intellectual engagement with the need for trained competence and broad exposure.”
The committee wanted students to continue to study skills no matter what level they reached before arriving at Yale, the report said. It also said the committee did not want to create a core of required courses to satisfy the distributional requirements.
Political science professor Donald Green, who teaches “Introductory to Statistics: Social Sciences,” said he thought the quantitative reasoning requirement would benefit Yale College education because it would improve skills essential in many fields. He said alumni have told him statistics was the most useful course they took at Yale.
Margaret Ziegler ’03 said she liked the idea of the quantitative reasoning requirement because it would lead students to take beneficial courses they might not have taken without the requirement.
She said she hoped courses to satisfy the requirement would be offered at all levels and include tutoring support. Ziegler, whose high school did not offer calculus, said she wanted to take calculus in college, but did not because there was not enough support or courses geared to her level.
The report calls for a quantitative reasoning teaching center that would help professors develop courses to satisfy the requirement and also offer extensive tutoring for students.
Shawn Douglas ’03 said he liked the idea of the writing skills requirement because there is constant feedback in writing classes.
“If you have to write about something, you have to think about it,” Douglas said.
Anjan Sundaram ’05 said he was not convinced that having distributional requirements would actually lead to more breadth in students’ educational experience because, as with the current system, students can satisfy the requirements with randomly chosen courses.
“It doesn’t ensure that they do substantive work in different areas,” Sundaram said.
But Sundaram said he thought Yale’s system was one of the best because it allows students to choose how to fulfill the requirements.
While a number of students and professors favored the changes in the distributional requirements, they had more reservations with the potential change in Credit/D/Fail policy.
Barbara Wexelman ’03, a member of the committee, said she thought it would be beneficial for students if they could take any class Credit/D/Fail. She said while professors might not like the idea of losing the ability to make Credit/D/Fail designations for their courses, the new option would allow for more even use of Credit/D/Fail across a variety of courses.
Steven Siger ’05 said he thought students would be more engaged in courses taken to satisfy distributional requirements if they did not have the Credit/D/Fail option.
“I think if the goal of distributional requirements is to get a well-balanced education, then that requires people actually going to class and doing some work,” Siger said.
Biology professor emeritus Arthur Galston said he was not in favor of allowing students to take any class they wanted Credit/D/Fail. He said he thought Yale students should be able to do well in any course. When he offered courses with the Credit/D/Fail option, Galston said, his students did not put in the effort to learn.
Political science professor Ellen Lust-Okar said she thought offering all classes Credit/D/Fail would allow students to self-select into courses where they want to take risks. But she said that as a professor she was “not crazy” about allowing students to take any class Credit/D/Fail.
“When I offer a class, I want to make sure students are really serious about it,” Lust-Okar said.
Charles Dewitt ’03 said he thought the purpose of both Credit/D/Fail and the distributional requirements was to make students take courses they would not normally take, so he saw no reason to separate them. While he said he liked the idea of offering all classes Credit/D/Fail, he said it was not necessarily a good idea in seminars because so much of the learning is based on participation from all students.