Profs endorse major reforms

More than 200 Yale professors handily endorsed three of the most controversial recommendations of April’s undergraduate curricular review at a vote in Linsly-Chittenden Hall Thursday.

Professors voted to pass the Committee on Yale College Education’s recommended changes to the University’s distributional group and foreign language requirements. These proposals passed with majority approval despite weathering a wave of strong criticism at the two and a half hour, closed-door ladder faculty meeting, professors said. The faculty also passed a third motion, which will allow faculty councils to sort courses into distributional groups on an individual basis.

The academic review committee will now begin implementing the curricular changes, which will go into effect beginning with the Class of 2009.

Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, who chaired the 41-member professor and student committee, said he was pleased with the faculty vote and the debate preceding it.

“It was a very, very lively discussion,” Brodhead said. “Everyone understands that this is an experiment and we must do our best to make the dreams of this [curricular review] come true.”

With respect to distributional requirements, the faculty voted to require students to take two courses each in the humanities and arts, social sciences and natural sciences. Students will also be required to take two courses focusing on writing skills and two on quantitative reasoning.

In what professors characterized as the most contentious curricular change, about 75 percent of professors voted to adjust the foreign language requirement, they said.

Students entering Yale with language proficiency will be required to take at least one term of foreign language study. Currently, proficient students are not required to take any language courses. The foreign language requirement for students who do not meet proficiency will decrease from four to three semesters.

These changes were met with controversy at the meeting, East Asian Studies chairwoman Mimi Yiengpruksawan said.

“The vote on the language requirement is a dumbing down of our University,” said Yiengpruksawan, who said she voted against the proposal. “[Former Yale College Dean and History professor Donald] Kagan stated, ‘It marks a debasement of our curriculum.’”

Kagan declined to comment Thursday night.

Ethics, Politics and Economics director Seyla Benhabib said she voted against the foreign language changes because she said the academic review committee did not spend enough time discussing the recommendation during Thursday’s meeting and in the months leading up to it.

“There was a lot of concern [from] my colleagues in the language departments about the specifics of the proposal,” Benhabib said. “I did not like the fact that the committee was so defensive and that they did not entertain enough objections and counterarguments.”

Brodhead said some critics of the new language have a short-sighted view of the recommendation.

“The proposal is not about reduction,” Brodhead said. “It’s about rethinking the nature of the requirement to make foreign language learning a more functional and integral part of a student’s college education.”

Faculty members also approved the committee’s proposal to give Brodhead the authority to appoint faculty councils for the purpose of assigning specific courses to distributional groups. Currently, courses are sorted into distributional groups according to the course professor’s appointed department.

Yale professors walk in the rain Thursday to Connecticut Hall for a faculty meeting where they voted to approve three controversial recommendations of this past April's academic review.
Zoe Pershing-Foley
Yale professors walk in the rain Thursday to Connecticut Hall for a faculty meeting where they voted to approve three controversial recommendations of this past April's academic review.

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