All too often at Yale, there is Group IV, and then there is everything else. The gap between science majors and their classmates in other departments begins with the physical distance between Science Hill and Cross Campus, but it extends well beyond that into nearly every aspect of academic life. And for Yale to offer the type of liberal-arts education that is central to the college’s mission, that divide should be narrowed.
The academic review completed two years ago deserves credit for seriously and creatively taking on the challenge of integrating the sciences with the rest of Yale College. Several of the review’s recommendations are promising, including a call to relocate more science classes to central campus and create more interdisciplinary courses. But we see three areas in particular where the University can build on the ambitious framework it has presented for reforming the sciences at Yale.
First, efforts to close the gap between Science Hill and the rest of the campus should include a serious re-examination of what it means to be pre-med, both at Yale and elsewhere. The atmosphere in many Yale science courses — especially introductory ones — is dominated by the quest to get into medical school, creating a hyper-competitive environment that is stressful for aspiring doctors and uninviting for everyone else. Though Yale is not single-handedly responsible for this atmosphere, University President Richard Levin — as the academic review suggested — should spearhead an effort to rethink medical school admissions across the country. Under Levin, Yale has made strong statements, through both words and actions, about the negative consequences of early admissions programs for undergraduates. We hope he takes a similar stand when it comes to reforming medical school admissions, as well.
But given that even a strong push from Yale will not create immediate changes to the medical school admissions process, Yale must also continue to think about how to ensure that the science courses non-Group IV majors take are both accessible and substantive. The academic review focuses on requiring science classes specifically oriented toward non-science majors to “make serious intellectual demands” while remaining accessible to all Yale students. That is a worthy goal, but it also perpetuates a system that encourages entirely separate science courses for majors and non-majors. An alternative worth exploring would be offering more courses that contain different sections and different assignments — a research paper instead of an exam, for example — for those who do not intend to count a class toward their major.
Finally, the challenge should not simply be integrating non-Group IV majors into the sciences, but also finding ways to allow students on a science track to take advantage of what the rest of Yale has to offer. Science majors — often required to take several large lecture courses — are understandably frustrated when they find the smaller seminars in other departments closed to them. Seminars should, of course, be directed toward students in the departments through which they are offered, but Yale should encourage professors to offer open slots to Group IV majors and others. The effort to bring the sciences and the rest of Yale College closer together should, after all, come from both directions.