Some say review is Brodhead’s legacy

If the Committee on Yale College Education has its way, the next generation of Yalies may benefit from new academic facilities, an increased undergraduate faculty, and a revamped advising program.

In addition to the sweeping curricular changes that have already been approved, these reforms will foster a new undergraduate experience at the University. History indicates that once implemented, the recommendations from Yale’s first comprehensive academic review in 30 years will shape the University’s next era of undergraduate education.

As the University pushes forward with the implementation stage of the review, it prepares for a major capital campaign to raise funds for the proposals. Meanwhile, administrators and professors ponder the impact that the review will have on the Yale community and the resulting legacy of Yale College Dean and committee chairman Richard Brodhead.

“[The review has] given a great leader an opportunity to make a permanent mark on the institution,” Yale President Richard Levin said. “I hope we’ll look in retrospect as though it were a progressive and important series of changes.”

While some professors sharply criticized some of the review’s most controversial measures — mainly the recommendation to alter the foreign language requirement — a clear majority of the faculty voted to endorse them. Even some professors who did not support the foreign language requirement proposal still welcomed many of the review’s other recommendations.

“I think a large fraction of the faculty is more or less in sync with a large fraction of the report,” Astronomy chairman and committee member Charles Bailyn said.

Levin and Brodhead took a risk when they bucked a historical trend of small review committees, appointing 41 faculty and student members to the committee, Associate Yale College Dean and committee member Penelope Laurans said.

“If you have 20 bakers making a cake, you don’t get a very good cake,” Laurans said. “If you don’t have this many people working on it, it’s very likely that you develop something that doesn’t have the support of the entire community.”

Laurans said the report held true to Yale’s “educational ethos.”

“We haven’t changed the way that Yale operates,” Laurans said. “There’s no revolutionary plan, there’s a plan for taking what we have and making it better and better. And do I think it can work? Yes I do.”

The faculty-endorsed changes to the distributional group and foreign language requirements will go into effect beginning with the Class of 2009. But other recommendations, including building a new central campus science teaching center and increasing the faculty size by 10 percent, require funding and will be implemented at varying speeds, administrators said.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t turn the Queen Mary around on a dime, so you can’t do [all of] these right away,” Laurans said.

The University recently finished a cost analysis of the review’s proposals and will soon reveal a complete price tag for the reforms when it launches an official capital campaign, Levin said this week.

Brodhead said his nationwide fundraising efforts for the undergraduate academic reforms this semester have been successful.

Years, perhaps decades, from now when the review’s proposals are in place and Brodhead’s final hour has passed, history will record the 2003 academic review as the most important mark of his long and steady deanship, professors said.

English chairwoman Linda Peterson, who led a writing committee that advised the academic review committee, said the review is one of the major contributions Brodhead has made as dean.

“From the perspective of future students, this will be the most important single feature of his deanship,” Peterson said.

History professor emeritus Gaddis Smith, who is currently writing a chronicle of Yale in the 20th century, called the 2003 review “the most comprehensive” of the University’s past reviews.

Smith said Brodhead “certainly” joins former Yale College Dean William DeVane, who served as dean from 1938-1963, as “one of the two major deans of the century.”

“I think [the review will] be a major monument to his deanship,” Smith said.

But Brodhead said he thinks the importance of the review “is for history to decide.”

“I do think that if [the recommendations] were implemented, these proposals would significantly strengthen the next generation of Yale education,” Brodhead said. “[But] I’m not going to regard this as my accomplishment alone.”

Richard Brodhead
Cody Dashiell-Earp
Richard Brodhead

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