Content over convenience in Group IV

When considering the state of Group IV at Yale, the academic review committee paid careful attention to the major physical and curricular distances between Science Hill and central campus. Proposals for minimizing the gap were perhaps the most dramatic in the committee’s sweeping report, released last month to mixed reviews, and perhaps the most susceptible to departmental whim. Some are reasonable and seem likely to succeed; others are more ambitious and seem unlikely to win the cooperation of professors or students.

In its effort to destigmatize the sciences, it seems the committee devoted as much energy to shuffling classroom locations as it did to re-evaluating curricula. Students still use DUH (the former Department of Undergraduate Health) instead of UHS (University Health Services, a name the facility took before any of the current undergraduates had even applied). The chance that Science Hill will be an interdisciplinary place in our minds anytime soon is not high, even if we have to walk further for popular humanities classes or just a few feet for introductory chemistry. The trek from High Street to Hillhouse is indeed an obstacle to integrating the sciences, but inconvenience is not the way to overcome it. Suggestions for improving minibus service and making Science Hill itself an attractive destination will help narrow the psychological chasm. But the physical distance is there, and there it will remain. In considering which of the proposals to implement, the administration should focus on making science courses for nonmajors more appealing to take, not more appealing to walk to.

To that end, the committee has advocated for a major curricular review in the sciences, calling in particular for the creation of courses for nonmajors “similar in rigor but different in approach” to those for majors, more applied science courses, and more interdisciplinary courses in health and society. With this suggestion, the committee has outlined an ideal path for reconceiving Group IV. We hope departments in the sciences begin by scrapping all of the traditional “gut” courses as soon as possible and provide incentives for faculty to develop challenging pure science and interdisciplinary courses for what the report refers to as self-titled “non-science” students.

The committee asked for the establishment of a Science Teaching Center situated geographically and academically between central campus and Science Hill, with fellows who would facilitate the creation of these courses. As an institutional mechanism to develop new classes, the center is a clever idea with much potential. But as an intellectual and social gathering place for students and faculty, as the committee hopes, it seems likely to be a better concept on paper than in practice. Most of the amenities the theoretical facility boasts — classrooms and lecture halls for science classes, a home base for science-oriented extracurricular activities, and a space for talks by distinguished visiting professionals — we already have on Science Hill. We worry that a building without lab space, in particular, will not prove the community center the committee hopes.

It will no doubt take considerable time and resources to achieve the review committee’s right-minded goal of reintegrating science into the liberal arts. This process will work best if the administration improves course offerings and the quality of instruction before it constructs new buildings and rearranges rooms.